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White House to face subpoenas on Solyndra

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Thu November 3, 2011
President Obama tours the Solyndra solar panel company May 26, 2010, in Fremont, California.
President Obama tours the Solyndra solar panel company May 26, 2010, in Fremont, California.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: White House: The "unprecedented" subpoenas are part of a "partisan" effort
  • Stearns: The White House is "unable or unwilling" to answer basic questions
  • The House subcommittee voted on party lines in favor of subpoenas
  • Federal analysts looking at the Solyndra loan in 2009 warned of possible problems

Washington (CNN) -- A House panel voted Thursday to subpoena the White House for documents related to the solar energy company Solyndra.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations voted along party lines, 14 to 9, in favor of issuing the subpoenas for internal documents regarding the decision to issue more than half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees in 2010 to Solyndra, which later filed for bankruptcy.

The decision followed a contentious debate among subcommittee members, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of stonewalling, and some Democrats calling the subpoena resolution politically motivated.

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Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, said the White House Office of Management and Budget earlier this year "repeatedly failed to cooperate with our investigation and we agreed to put off a vote on that subpoena" in hopes that engaging the White House could avoid the need for subpoenas.

"Only after repeated failed attempts to engage the White House did the committee notify the White House" that it intended to discuss possible subpoenas, Stearns said. "This finally got the attention of the White House counsel," who then met with lawmakers Wednesday, he said. "Unfortunately, the White House was unable or unwilling to answer even the most basic questions."

Democrats slammed the subcommittee's move, though some acknowledged the White House could be more forthcoming with information in the case.

Veteran Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, said after the vote: "I've never seen a procedure quite like this."

"We are protesting here a sweeping subpoena," he said. Since Republicans have "been able to find nothing" wrong in what they've looked at so far, they have "increased the size of the net and reduced the size of the holes in the net as they go about this fishing expedition."

The White House accused the House panel of choosing "a partisan route."

"This administration has cooperated extensively with the committee's investigation by producing over 85,000 pages of documents, including 20,000 pages produced just yesterday afternoon," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. "Administration officials have participated in multiple briefings and hearings, and the White House has also already provided over 900 pages of documents in response to requests we have received. And all of the materials that have been disclosed affirm what we said on day one: this was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy."

Schultz called the subpoenas "unprecedented and unwarranted."

Federal analysts looking at the proposed Solyndra loan in 2009 warned then of possible problems, as well as pressure from the White House to speed up a decision, according to a memorandum released last month by congressional investigators.

Approved in May 2010, the Energy Department's loan allowed Solyndra to build a factory in Fremont, California, to produce state-of-the-art solar panels.

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in late August and closed its doors, however, putting more than 1,000 people out of work after it received $535 million in loan guarantees.

The bankruptcy leaves the federal government unlikely to get the loan money back. President Barack Obama touted the company in a widely publicized visit last year.

A source familiar with the congressional investigation said the White House has provided e-mail communications with details about who at the White House was looped in on the deal while red flags were being raised about the financial soundness of the company.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley announced last week that he is ordering a 60-day independent review of the state of the Energy Department's loan portfolio. The review will include recommendations about how to improve the loan monitoring process.

The review will be headed by Herb Allison, a veteran of both the Obama and last Bush administrations who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), among other things.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Tom Cohen, Josh Levs and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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