Updated at 7:30 p.m. According to new emails released by House Republicans, George Kaiser, a billionaire investor and bundler for President Obama's 2008 campaign, discussed the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra with White House officials.
The emails show a series of exchanges between Kaiser (who has an apparent fondness for Comic Sans) and his associates, including Steve Mitchell, an employee at his VC firm Argonaut and Ken Levit, an employee at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, discussing a number of interactions with the White House, including a statement that Solyndra was among the "prime poster children" of the administration's stimulus plan and that Kaiser and Levit had discussed Solyndra with "administration folks in DC":
A spokesperson for Kaiser had previously stated that he wasn't personally involved in promoting Solyndra with White House officials. A statement given to The Washington Post on Sept. 1 said Kaiser, "did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. Government regarding the loan."
This first batch of emails were released by Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns, the chair of the House Energy Committee's investigating subcomittee. He told The Atlantic Wire that he believed the new emails suggest politics played a role in the government's dealings with Solyndra. "Some of the emails we got are confirming what we thought, " he said. "There was a tie-in between investor George Kaiser and the White House."
Kaiser's awareness of the implications the media might draw between Solyndra's loan and his connections to Obama was also on display in an email exchange released earlier by the Republicans. Dated October 2010, just as Solyndra's business began to go downhill, Kaiser and his associates chewed over the idea of getting additional help from the White House such as a loan revision. His associate Steve Mitchell noted that "The WH has offered to help in the past." But Kaiser was reluctant to ask for White House support, seeing it only as a "last resort" option if that:
The issue over the $535 million loan guarantee that the Department of Energy granted Solyndra in March 2009 became controversial after the solar company went bankrupt in September. The fact that President Obama had held an event at the solar manufacturer's headquartera in September 2009 touting the company as a job creator didn't help.
White House officials have repeated the claim that they did not discuss the company and its loan with Kaiser. Last month Obama rejected the suggestion that political connections played a role, saying, "I have confidence decisions were made based upon what's good for the American people ... All I can say is the Department of Energy made these decisions based on their best judgments." ABC News asked a White House official specifically if Solyndra was discussed between Kaiser and top aides in the Obama administration:
Kaiser has "said publicly that Solyndra was not discussed at these meetings, and we have no reason to dispute that," the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had not been given approval to discuss the matter. "We understand that the conversations in these meetings were focused on the general policy priorities of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, including early childhood education and poverty, health care policy and energy policy."
For the more prurient-minded readers, no e-mail dump is complete without examples of crass language and sexual euphemisms. For that, a candid exchange between Ken Levit and Steve Mitchell (we're not exactly sure what the context is):
So where does this leave us? While there is no evidence in the released emails that Kaiser ever discussed Solyndra's Energy Department loan with White House officials, it appears that he discussed Solyndra at some point with the White House. (Waxman and DeGette write very narrowly later in their letter, "According to Mr. Kaiser, he did not mention Solyndra at any of the March 2009 meetings.") That doesn't seem to be the case, as a discussion about Solyndra "came up" with White House officials according to the e-mail Kaiser sent to Mitchell (the first e-mail published above). But, for all the emails released today, none show any efforts to get White House officials to intercede at the Energy Department on Solyndra's behalf.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the new emails. See all the e-mails below followed by the response by Waxman and Degette: