GOP says Energy Dept. tried to delay solar layoffs
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration wanted the failing solar energy company Solyndra to delay announcing employee layoffs last year until after the 2010 midterm elections, according to newly released emails.
An October 2010 email from a Solyndra investment adviser to a colleague said Energy Department officials were pushing "very hard" to delay making the layoffs public until Nov. 3, 2010 — the day after the midterm elections.
"Oddly they didn't give a reason for that date," the email states. The email was released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, along with dozens of other emails related to the Solyndra investigation.
Last week, the White House said congressional Republicans were using the Solyndra investigation as a partisan "political football." Spokesman Jay Carney said at the time that GOP lawmakers have "cherry-picked" certain documents trying to create controversy over a decision-making process that the White House insists involved no political influence.
Solyndra announced dozens of layoffs on Nov. 3, 2010, after the election, but continued to receive federal assistance. The company, which received a $528 million federal loan in 2009, closed its doors on Aug. 31, 2011 and laid off its 1,100 workers.
The Oct. 30, 2010, email was from Steve Mitchell, managing director of Argonaut Private Equity, a major Solyndra investor, to Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Both organizations are controlled by George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who was a "bundler" for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and a frequent White House visitor in 2009 and 2010. Argonaut invested $400 million in the solar company. Mitchell also served on Solyndra's board of directors.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera on Tuesday declined to confirm events described in the emails or to identify who at the Energy department may have urged the delay in the layoff announcement. He said "decisions about this loan were made on the merits."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to testify before the House energy panel on Thursday.
Solyndra's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama and a rallying cry for GOP critics of his green energy program.
The Republican-controlled energy panel has subpoenaed White House communications on Solyndra and has released thousands of pages of emails related to the company.
Emails released last week show that top officials at the White House circulated a plan calling for Chu's ouster as the administration braced for a political storm brewing over Solyndra.
An email from a clean-energy activist and former official in Obama's 2008 campaign said that Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was a brilliant man but "not perfect" for other critical DOE missions, including creating jobs.
A White House spokesman said the plan to oust Chu was not taken very seriously.