On paper, pleading the Fifth Amendment is a wonderful strategy: Just keep your mouth shut and we'll deal with this later. That's the legal advice Solyndra's top executives adhered to at the House Oversight Subcommittee this morning. But in practice, the legal tactic is an invitation to relentless badgering and humiliation. And House Republicans were in rare form. Taken individually, reports about this morning's hearing show nothing really happened. But if you tease out quotes from the individual lawmakers, you can see it was a bare-knuckle shame-fest. Here's what happened when Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison said he would "respectfully decline to answer any questions."
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) The Washington Post reports: “The taxpayers deserve answers and they deserve their money back.”
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) ABC News reports: "I want to ask Mr. Harrison if he thinks the American people who invested over a half a billion dollars deserve to know what happened to that money? I don't understand what's self-incriminating about a yes or no answer to whether the American people deserve to know what happened to over a half a billion dollars of their money."
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: "It’s disappointing that the officials who canvassed the halls of Congress in mid- July and misled our members about the financial state of their company are now unwilling to answer direct questions, but any effort to cover up the truth will ultimately not succeed."
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mi.) The Washington Post reports: “I don’t know what’s self-incriminating about answering a yes or no question about whether the taxpayers deserve to know what happened to half a billion dollars of their money,” Upton said, reportedly "shaking his head." He added: “There doesn’t appear to be any reason for these gentlemen not to answer these questions.”
The non-stop tongue lashing session apparently became so uncomfortable Congressman Henry Waxman "slammed" Republicans for being so unkind to their C-suite guests. "I just want to take this moment to assert the fact that I think it's unseemly and inappropriate for members to be asking questions that you know they will not answer," said Waxman, calling the GOP questions "sound bites" engineered for media grandstanding.
But hey, Solyndra's lawyers know what they're doing. Legally it undoubtedly made the most sense. But the lasting side effect of pleading the Fifth is in the realm of public perception, as Jamie Dupree at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes: "In terms of the PR game, there aren't many things more powerful than the scene of a witness refusing to answer questions while being blasted by lawmakers in a Congressional hearing." And by the looks of the Solyndra execs faces, they understood this point perfectly well: