DOE loan chief warned staff that personal e-mail could be subpoenaed

Tuesday, the Washington Post reported on documents showing that Jonathan Silver, the former head of the Department of Energy’s $38 billion clean-energy loan guarantee program, directed a staff member not to use personal e-mail addresses in official DOE correspondence in order to prevent personal accounts from becoming eligible for government subpoena — and did so a matter of days before the now-failed, $500-million-loan-recipient solar company Solyndra went bankrupt.

“Don’t ever send an email on doe email with a personal email addresses,” Silver wrote Aug. 21, 2011, from his personal account to a program official’s private Gmail account. “That makes them subpoenable.” …

Silver repeatedly communicated about internal and sensitive loan decisions via his personal e-mail, the newly released records show, and more than a dozen other Energy Department staff members used their personal e-mail to discuss decisions involving taxpayer-funded loans as well. The Washington Post received the e-mails from Republican investigators on the committee. …

Silver said Tuesday that he did not mean to avoid congressional scrutiny. “I intended to advise my DOE colleagues to use their official email for official purposes and personal email for personal purposes,” he said in a statement. “It was never my intention to avoid the requirements of the Federal Records Act.”

…The White House and Chu have repeatedly asserted that the Energy Department staff made all loan decisions based on merit, without regard to politics or donors. …

Silver wrote on June 12, 2011, to David Lane, counsel to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, arguing that approving a loan to a solar-generation facility called Project Amp would help Obama politically.

Despite Silver’s protestations, this all looks more than a little bit sketchy. Perhaps instead of worrying over how to avoid making loan-related correspondence subject to Congressional subpoena, maybe they should have been worrying about — oh, I don’t know — not doing things that would make a Congressional subpoena cause for alarm?

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) sent a letter to DOE Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday, calling out him and his Department for apparently providing false testimony to Congress concerning the energy loan program.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, along with Subcommittee Chairmen Jim Jordan and Trey Gowdy, asked Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to clarify apparently false testimony to Congress about efforts to conceal documents from investigators and White House involvement in the Department of Energy Loan Program that used taxpayer funds to support companies including Solyndra.  The request comes after the Committee obtained documents from individual non-official e-mail accounts contradicting the testimony.

“Recently-obtained documents show DOE officials frequently used Yahoo! and Gmail to communicate about the loan guarantee program,” Issa, Jordan, and Gowdy wrote to Chu.  “This use of non-government e-mail accounts for official business may have violated the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and the Federal Records Act (FRA).  The documents also show that testimony given to the Committee by current and former DOE officials, including you, was inaccurate, and may have been intentionally false.”

Issa, never one to let governmental dodginess slide, plans to pursue the matter:

Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, plans as soon as Wednesday to ask for personal e-mails related to Department of Energy business from ten current and former Department of Energy employees who served during the Obama Administration and participated in the program that gave loan guarantees to Solyndra, the failed solar firm that received a $528 million loan guarantee, and other companies, according to a congressional aide familiar with the investigation.

I’m sure Democrats were hoping that the Solyndra issue would conveniently fade away, seeing as how President Obama is still actively pushing for more government “investment” in politically-popular clean energies and they don’t feel the need to remind anyone of the Department of Energy’s many failures, but this administration has had a little too much cronyism and “business as usual” for comfort.