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Solyndra was asked to delay announcing layoffs until after 2010 vote

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 8:32 PM EST, Tue November 15, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The White House challenges part of the Republican memorandum
  • House Republicans release details of Solyndra investigation before a hearing Thursday
  • Memo: The Department of Energy asked Solyndra to delay layoffs until after the 2010 vote
  • Solyndra went bankrupt after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Energy last year urged struggling solar energy company Solyndra to delay announcing planned layoffs until after the November 2010 elections, according to information made public Tuesday by Republican congressional investigators.

Solyndra, which had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees in 2009, later declared bankruptcy.

House Republicans are spearheading an investigation of whether Solyndra received preferential treatment because a key investor was a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama.

The White House says the loan guarantee under a Department of Energy program started during the Bush administration was approved by energy officials based on the merits of the plan to manufacture solar panels.

The House Energy Committee will hold a hearing on Solyndra on Thursday to question Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the issue.

A memorandum Tuesday by the Repubilcan staff of the panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee said Solyndra faced financial troubles and was seeking more government help in 2010, after Obama had visited the company to tout its benefits.

It said Solyndra Chief Executive Officer Brian Harrison e-mailed the Department of Energy on October 25, 2010, that the company had received inquiries from the media and potential investors about rumors of financial problems.

Harrison stated he wanted to proceed with a planned internal announcement of layoffs on October 28, the memorandum said, adding that Harrison's e-mail was forwarded to Jonathan Silver, the executive director of the energy department's loan programs office, as well as Chu's chief of staff.

The memorandum said Silver forwarded the e-mail to Carol Browner and Ron Klain, who were top advisers to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and another White House staff member in Browner's office.

However, a White House official disputed that assertion, saying the e-mail went from Silver to others, and it was someone else who then forwarded it to Browner, Klain and another official. A spokesperson for the subcommittee staff later confirmed that the memorandum misstated the e-mail chain as pointed out by the White House.

According to the memorandum, Department of Energy officials discussed the situation on October 30, 2010, with advisers for Argonaut Private Equity -- a major Solyndra investor founded by Obama fundraiser George Kaiser.

The Argonaut advisers said the energy officials "did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to November 3," the memorandum stated.

"Oddly, they didn't give a reason for that date," the Argonaut advisers added, according to the memorandum.

The mid-term congressional elections took place on November 2, and the next day, Solyndra announced it was shutting down some operations and laying off workers.

A Department of Energy spokesman, Damien LaVera, said memorandum "cites internal e-mail from Argonaut about the timing of a press release."

"But as the 180,000 pages of documents that the Department of Energy turned over to the Committee indicate, the Department's decisions about this loan were made on the merits, based on extensive review by the experts in the loan program -- and nothing in this Republican Committee memo changes that," LaVera said.

It was the second time in a week that the House Energy Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee released information that the White House labeled misleading.

In a November 11 letter to the Republican chairs of the energy committee and the oversight subcommittee, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler cited what she called the selective release of some e-mails and other documents last week intended to create a false impression that political contributors influenced the Solyndra loan decision.

"Your allegation is unfounded," Ruemmler wrote, adding that the way the documents were released presented a misleading and inaccurate account to the public. Democrats on the committee also criticized last week's release of information by Republicans.

In an interview with National Public Radio made public Tuesday, Chu denied that any political influence by campaign contributors played a role in the Solyndra loan process.

"Certainly no decision we made in the loan program had anything to do with who was investing in the company," Chu said, according to an NPR report on the interview.

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