Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia
March 25, 2012
Several key White House offices were involved with the Obama administration’s messaging plans and other preparations as the collapse of the taxpayer-backed solar company Solyndra was imminent, newly released documents show.
The latest White House documents delivered to House Republicans on Friday again highlight the extent to which senior administration officials braced for the fallout as Solyndra – a company President Obama had personally visited – was about to go under.
A White House memo that noted the danger of “imminent bankruptcy” at the end of August 2011 says, “OMB, DPC and NEC have been working with press and OLA to be prepared for this news to break.”
Acronym translation: OMB is the Office of Management and Budget, DPC is the Domestic Policy Council, NEC is the National Economic Council and OLA is the Office of Legal Affairs.
The document, an update on Solyndra’s $535 million Energy Department (DOE) loan guarantee, notes that $527 million had been disbursed and that DOE believed no more funds should be alloted.
The White House document notes that the Treasury Department, OMB and other White House offices agreed that no more money should be provided because there was a “near-zero chance” that the company could survive.
The company collapsed at the end of August 2011 and filed for bankruptcy in early September. The Hill has reported previously on the administration decision not to attempt a last-ditch financial rescue.
White House internal communications during the company’s final days include an email about a planned meeting to discuss Solyndra on August 29, 2011. Heather Zichal, a senior energy policy aide, and Deputy OMB Director Jeffrey Zients were slated to brief other officials.
The list of optional attendees included several high-level officials, such as then-Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes and Nancy-Ann DeParle, another senior adviser to the president.
Republicans have pounced on last year’s Solyndra bankruptcy, arguing that the administration missed a series of red flags that hinted at the company’s financial problems. They’ve also alleged that the administration approved the loan in 2009 to please Obama’s campaign donors.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s year-long investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee has not uncovered evidence of political favoritism. But it has unearthed documents that are likely embarrassing and potentially politically damaging for the White House, including some that show officials questioning the wisdom of issuing the loan guarantee.
The White House sent another 432 pages of documents to Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday in response to a November subpoena for all Solyndra communications.
Over the last several months, the White House has provided the committee with more than 2,700 pages of documents. Federal agencies, in response to separate inquiries, have forked over more than 185,000 pages of documents.
Republicans have insisted that the White House provide more documents in response to previous document productions, arguing that the administration is not being forthcoming.
The White House’s top lawyers said again Friday that the approval of the decision to approve the loan guarantee was based on the merits, not politics.
“None of the documents support the Committee’s allegations about favoritism to campaign contributors or improper White House involvement in the decision-making process,” Kathryn Ruemmler, the president chief counsel, and Cynthia Hogan, the vice president’s counsel, wrote in a letter that accompanied the documents.
Committee Republicans will nonetheless continue probing the Solyndra loan next week. As part of a previous agreement with the White House, Zichal will meet with committee staff next week to discuss Solyndra.
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