Solyndra Scandal Finally Gets Interesting

Emails showing administration officials tried to keep Solyndra layoff news under wraps until the after midterm elections reinforce right-wing attacks on the White House.

Solyndra Scandal Finally Gets Interesting

Steven Chu has a busy day tomorrow: the Energy Secretary will spend the bulk of his time getting grilled by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the Obama Administration’s dealing with failed solar panel company Solyndra.

As they prepared for Chu’s arrival, the Republican-led committee, which contends the White House favored a clearly unsustainable Solyndra to help George Kaiser, a major Obama donor whose venture capital group Argonaut invested in and advised Solyndra, released emails detailing communications between Solyndra, the White House and an Argonaut employee.

There’s no proof Kaiser and Obama worked in tandem to secure Solyndra’s $535 million loan guarantee — and the political boost it gave Obama’s green jobs initiative — but the emails do show that administration officials suggested the flailing Solyndra keep upcoming layoffs under wraps until after the 2010 election.

On October 25, Solyndra executive Brian Harrison had warned the Department’s loan department that rumors of the company’s dire straights “is starting t leak outside Solyndra.” He also explained, “[I would] like to go forward with the internal communication [about layoffs] on Thursday, October 28.”

That email was sent along to Jonathan Silver, the Department’s loan director, and to Chu’s chief of staff, as well as other White House officials. None appeared to advise Solyndra directly, but an email from an Argonaut adviser to Solyndra reads, “They [the Energy Department] did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3rd… Oddly they didn’t give a reason for that date.” That date would be one day after voters cast their midterm ballots.

The Solyndra news would have almost guaranteed an ever-steeper loss for Obama’s Democratic Party.

White House spokesman Eric Shultz insists the emails have been “cherry-picked” and “reflect nothing more than the White House being given a heads-up about an upcoming press release from Solyndra.” Damien LaVera from the Energy Department, meanwhile, told the Washington Post that the Solyndra loan was on the up-and-up.

“The department’s decisions about this loan were made on the merits, based on extensive review by the experts in the loan program — and nothing in this Republican committee memo changes that,” said LaVera. Unfortunately, he’s wrong, because the Solyndra hearings are more about political smoke and mirrors than getting facts about Solyndra’s rise and fall.

All Republicans need to do is make it look as if Obama’s White House gave Solyndra the loan for political reasons. And now they’re half-way there: suggestions that Solyndra hold bad news for electoral purposes will only help reinforce people’s doubts about the deal — and Obama himself.

Chu’s appearance tomorrow is unlikely to clear the air, and as the GOP-led efforts heat up, the Energy Secretary, who has denied any political wheeling and dealing, may bow out to help shield the president from the implication that his staff used the White House for less-than-public purposes.