White House turns over e-mails related to Solyndra loan

President Barack Obama had touted Solyndra in a widely publicized visit after the loan guarantee came through.

Story highlights

  • White House official: E-mails fall within "legitimate areas of oversight"
  • White House official calls subpoena "overbroad and overreaching"
  • House panel is probing $535M in federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, now bankrupt
The White House on Friday turned over internal e-mails demanded under subpoena by a House panel investigating the collapse of Solyndra, but stopped short of releasing the full cache sought by the Energy and Commerce Committee, officials said.
The e-mails provided fell within what one administration official described as "what we believe are legitimate areas of oversight for the committee."
White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler explained the decision to send only a portion of the subpoenaed e-mails in a letter that accompanied the release, writing that the committee issued an "overbroad and overreaching subpoena to the White House that encroaches upon important and longstanding Executive Branch prerogatives."
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 in 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, committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, who heads the investigating subcommittee, released documents that they said showed Kaiser discussed the Solyndra loans during White House meetings, something that the White House disputes.
In her letter Friday, Ruemmler accused the committee of releasing "these documents in a way that presented a misleading and inaccurate account to the public."
She also emphasized the White House e-mails sent to the committee Friday prove officials did nothing wrong.
"None of these documents contain evidence of political favoritism or wrongdoing by White House officials," Ruemmler wrote. "Indeed, the documents produced to date -- including Mr. Kaiser's own candid e-mails -- indicate that White House officials did not intervene on Mr. Kaiser's behalf with the Department of Energy to influence the decision to grant or restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee."
Upton and Stearns issued a joint statement after the release Friday, saying they "appreciate" the response to the subpoena, while making note of the "limited number of self-selected documents."
"We look forward to further productive discussions as we continue to pursue a full and complete picture of how this administration manages the taxpayers' dollars, whether it is fulfilling its commitments to transparency and good government, and what lessons can be learned to prevent a similar loss in the future," the statement said.
The 130 pages of e-mails released Friday fall under four categories listed by Ruemmler as "legitimate oversight interests." They are: "the influence of campaign contributions on the decision whether or not to grant or restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee; involvement by the White House in the decision whether or not to make a conditional commitment to Solyndra for its loan guarantee; involvement by the White House in the decision whether or not to close the Solyndra loan guarantee; involvement by the White House in the decision to subordinate the government's interest as part of the restructuring of the Solyndra loan guarantee."
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.