It was not a federal holiday on Friday for President Obama’s lawyers dealing with the Solyndra saga.
On the afternoon of Veterans Day, while most government workers were enjoying a day off, the White House sent a batch of documents to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in answer to the subpoena that House Republicans slapped on the administration about the West Wing’s involvement in Solyndra and the $535 million loan guarantee that Obama’s Energy Department awarded the now-bankrupt solar-energy firm in September 2009.
The 135 pages of documents were also made available to the media, but the most important information—related to the administration’s decision to restructure Solyndra’s loan in February 2011—may never be made public.
The relatively small batch of documents released on Friday brings the grand total of documents the administration says it has delivered to Capitol Hill so far to 185,000. The Energy Department sent 100,000 documents earlier this week.
Senior White House officials—on a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters and also in a letter on Friday to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.—reiterated what the administration has said all along: The decision to award Solyndra its loan guarantee was made on the merits and not influenced by political donors, such as George Kaiser, the Oklahoma oil billionaire who was a big 2008 Obama supporter. Kaiser is a major investor in Solyndra.
“These documents—like the 185,000 already produced by the Administration, like the Argonaut documents released Wednesday, like the hearing testimony, and like the briefings provided by Administration officials—do not contain evidence of favoritism to political supporters or any wrongdoing by the White House in connection with the Solyndra loan guarantee,” White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said in the letter to Upton and Stearns that accompanied the documents.
The newly released documents address three areas the White House deems an adequate response to the subpoena, which was approved on a strict party-line vote with no Democratic support earlier this month. These include information the White House had about the company’s investors and the Energy Department’s review of the loan guarantee when it was conditionally approved in March 2009 and finalized in September 2009.
The White House e-mails echo the same storylines that have been reported since Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early September of this year, but they included no "smoking gun" revelations.
Notably, the White House did not include in this batch of documents West Wing e-mails about DOE’s decision to restructure the loan in February 2011, which was one of the areas Republicans want information about and is arguably the most controversial issue. The last House hearing on Solyndra, in October, focused chiefly on this issue.
Republicans allege that the Energy Department violated the Energy Policy Act of 2005 when it restructured Solyndra’s loan because it made the government’s debt obligation secondary—or "subordinate"—to that of private investors, including the venture-capital firm Argonaut founded by Kaiser. The committee has released a DOE memo that states the department’s legal rationale for doing that.
“We located several documents that reflect that White House officials had discussions with the Department of Energy about its decision to restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee, consistent with information contained in documents previously produced by the agencies,” Ruemmler said in the letter. “Because of the deliberative nature of the communications that include these references to discussions about the restructuring, we are not producing them today, but can make them available for review.”
On the conference call Friday, an administration official said they would allow House investigators to view the documents but not make copies of them. They will also not be released to the public—at least not by the administration.
The official would also not speak to whether or not a law was broken but reiterated that the decision was made within the Energy Department and not at the White House.
“The position has always been that DOE made the decision restructuring the loan with statutory authority,” said the official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. “They had a legal analysis and determined it was appropriate.”
These e-mails and ones released earlier this week by both Democrats and Republicans on the committee will help inform the questions members will ask Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a highly anticipated hearing on Thursday.