Politico has a big scoop on the Solyndra story today, but Darren Samuelsohn doesn’t quite connect the dots. The report focuses on a lighter moment — pardon the pun — in the embarrassment of the Obama administration over the solar-power firm’s collapse. While Barack Obama highlighted the $535 million loan to Solyndra in his January 2010 State of the Union speech, by the time January 2011 rolled around, the White House didn’t want Solyndra anywhere near the next SOTU [see update]:
White House staff knew enough about Solyndra’s troubles in January 2011 to dismiss talk of inviting the company’s executives into President Barack Obama’s special State of the Union box, internal emails released Friday show.
The idea of seating Solyndra officials with Michelle Obama in the Capitol during the president’s nationally televised speech came up around the same time that DOE was preparing a controversial change to the company’s $535 million federal loan guarantee, which wound up increasing the risk to taxpayers.
But Daniella Gibbs Léger, director of White House message events, batted down the idea of a State of the Union invite before it could be raised among her superiors. “Can’t do Solyndra…they’ve run into some issues recently. :(,” she wrote on Jan. 5, 2011.
The e-mail comes from a batch finally released to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been looking into the Solyndra debacle and trying to overcome Obama administration stonewalling for months. That’s not the only nugget in this new trove of material in the latest Friday night document dump from Obama’s scandals, either. A month prior to that e-mail exchange, Obama’s climate czar Carol Browner and her deputy exchanged e-mails that showed both despairing over Solyndra’s financial condition:
On Dec. 8, 2010, for example, White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner and her top deputy agonized over Solyndra’s pending collapse.
“You hear solyndra is in a severe liquidity crises and we areent likely given next doe loan? Banner week,” Heather Zichal wrote. Browner’s reply was quick: “Yep. Ugh”
Those familiar with the timeline of Solyndra’s collapse and the loss of more than a half-billion taxpayer dollars will understand the significance of these e-mails. Just a few weeks later, the Department of Energy “restructured” Solyndra’s loans so that taxpayer money was subordinated to later investors, allowing Solyndra to get $75 million in new financing. That financing came from Obama campaign bundler George Kaiser, who gets his money out of Solyndra’s assets before taxpayers see one thin dime, which means that we won’t see that thin dime any time soon, if at all. The restructuring also either gave Solyndra sweetheart interest rates or perpetuated them despite the subordination, a move that the DoE and the White House have never explained.
So the question raised is this: If the White House comms group and its climate czar both knew that Solyndra was an embarrassment, and so much so that the comms group nixed having Solyndra execs attend the 2011 SOTU in person, then why did Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu agree to restructure the loan less than a month later on such unfavorable terms? Solyndra’s woes must have been common knowledge in the West Wing for the “director of White House message events” to have that kind of wherewithal in advance of the January 25th speech. If so, then the decision to forge ahead with the restructuring that protected an Obama bundler’s late investment while illegally subordinating taxpayer investment becomes much more curious.
Update: I didn’t really intend this as a criticism of Darren, who does a good job of running down the details of the Friday night document dump, and the opening paragraph comes across as a little more critical than I wanted. I just saw a missed opportunity to link this to a decision that had more consequences than Darren brings up. I also spelled his name wrong initially.