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White House agrees to turn over some Solyndra documents

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:04 AM EST, Fri November 11, 2011
President Obama made a highly publicized visit to a Solyndra facility last year, before the company's bankruptcy.
President Obama made a highly publicized visit to a Solyndra facility last year, before the company's bankruptcy.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Republicans say they will get some documents under subpoena
  • House panel is probing $535M in loan guarantees to Solyndra, now bankrupt
  • The White House initially refused to comply with the subpoena, calling it too broad

Washington (CNN) -- The White House agreed Thursday to turn over some documents demanded under subpoena by a House panel investigating the collapse of solar energy firm Solyndra, Republican investigators said.

White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler initially balked at complying with the House Energy Committee's subpoena, calling it too broad.

A statement by committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, who heads the investigating subcommittee, said the White House counsel's office informed them Thursday "that it plans to begin providing responsive materials to the committee's subpoena."

"As we have said before, we stand ready to work with the White House on its document production and believe it is entirely possible for the White House to produce information for an investigation that the White House Counsel herself has acknowledged is both legitimate and necessary," the statement said.

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White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, "We are continuing to work with the committee to accommodate legitimate oversight requests and will provide a response to the committee tomorrow."

Solyndra received an Energy Department loan last year to build a factory in Fremont, California, that produced state-of-the-art solar panels. President Barack Obama had touted the company in a widely publicized visit after the loan guarantee came through.

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

The bankruptcy leaves the federal government unlikely to get the loan money back.

The House panel is looking into whether a key Solyndra investor and Obama fundraiser, George Kaiser, received preferential treatment in the loan guarantees approved by the Department of Energy.

On Wednesday, Upton and Stearns released documents that they said showed Kaiser discussed the Solyndra loans during White House meetings, something that the White House and Kaiser have denied.

In his statement Thursday, Schultz at the White House said all materials disclosed previously, "including those released by House Republicans yesterday, affirm what we have said all along: this was a merit based decision made by the Department of Energy."

Democrats on the committee accuse their GOP colleagues of political motives in their investigation.

Last week, Ruemmler refused to comply with the House panel's subpoena, saying it was "driven more by partisan politics than a legitimate effort to conduct a responsible investigation."

Ruemmler did not rule out disclosing additional information related to Solyndra, saying that "we remain willing to work with the committee to accommodate its legitimate oversight interests in a balanced manner."

At the same time, Ruemmler said unequivocally that the subpoena, as written, was unacceptable.

"The committee's extremely broad request for documents -- now a subpoena -- is a significant intrusion on executive branch interests," Ruemmler wrote.

In response, Upton issued a statement last Friday that accused the Obama administration and House Democrats of mounting "partisan roadblocks to hide the truth from taxpayers."

"Solyndra was a jobs program gone bad, and we must learn the lessons of Solyndra as we work to turn our economy around and put folks back to work," Upton's statement said. " ... What is the West Wing trying to hide? We owe it to American taxpayers to find out."

A government official said the White House wanted a narrower request. A letter from a group of House Democrats, sent to the committee before it issued the subpoena, said the White House would be willing to share documents related to campaign contributors' influence on the decision to grant or restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee, plus the White House's involvement in deciding whether to make such a conditional commitment or close the loan guarantee.

Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado wrote then that issuing the subpoena -- as it was written -- was unnecessary, given what they called "substantial progress" in recent talks between committee members and the White House about disclosing more information on Solyndra.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley recently announced 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 the most recent Bush administrations, who was chosen by Obama to oversee Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program, among other efforts.

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