Surprise: Head of Energy Department's loan program steps down amid Solyndra probe

Is one sacrificial lamb enough or will Steven Chu be next to decide that he wants to spend more time with his family?

Jonathan Silver, who was named executive director of DOE’s Loan Programs Office in November 2009, has come under fire from congressional Republicans since the solar manufacturer Solyndra declared bankruptcy Aug. 31 after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee. While DOE made the initial loan to Solyndra before Silver took the program’s helm — a point he made repeatedly during his congressional testimony last month — he remained the administration’s point person for the embattled initiative.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement Thursday that Silver had informed him in July, when it was clear that no significant new funds were being budgeted for the loan program, that he would leave at the end of the fiscal year

Chu made a point of defending the agency’s loan guarantee operation, saying, “Under his [Silver’s] leadership, the loan program has demonstrated considerable success, with a broad portfolio of investments that will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market.”

The program’s statutory authorization expired on Friday, shortly after DOE pushed another $5 billion in loans out the door, so it’s not inconceivable that Silver really did see his role winding down a few months ago and decided to cut the cord. Sure is convenient, though, that he’s out just a single day after new evidence emerged of just how credulous the Department was about Solyndra’s viability:

Newly released e-mails show the Obama administration’s Energy Department was poised to give Solyndra a second taxpayer loan of $469 million last year, even as the company’s financial situation grew increasingly dire.

The department was still considering providing the second loan guarantee to the solar-panel manufacturer in April and May 2010, at a time when Solyndra’s auditors were already warning that the company was in danger of collapsing…

The agency didn’t drop plans for a second loan until October 2010, an Energy Department spokesman has confirmed. That was the month Solyndra executives and investors first warned the government that the company faced the threat of liquidation without emergency cash…

Solyndra applied for a second loan days after receiving the first one in September 2009. The agency had put Solyndra’s request for a second loan guarantee on a fast-tracked priority list, two sources familiar with the company’s application told The Washington Post. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probes of the loan are ongoing.

The good news? This time, DOE finally clued into the fact that they were throwing money down the toilet. The bad news? That rather important detail didn’t stop them from restructuring the $535 million loan they’d already made to the company, which gave certain private investors priority over the government as creditors. As recently as May of this year, Silver was going around telling people that he expected a “very happy outcome” from the Solyndra deal. But don’t take my word for it: Go over to Verum Serum and listen to the two-minute audio clip, bearing in mind that this is the same guy who just greenlit another five billion to other green companies various and sundry last week.

The latest news is that House GOP investigators want access to Obama’s Blackberry so that they can find out what he knew about Solyndra. Executive privilege will almost certainly ensure that they don’t get it, but then they already know that. The point isn’t to get him to turn over the device, merely to raise a cloud of suspicion. Hardball.