House Energy and Commerce ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman said the Republican-led investigation of Solyndra has been "politically-rigged" since it began, citing Wednesday's release of emails between Obama fundraiser George Kaiser and his associates as just the latest example of political gamesmanship. "They've handled this investigation on strictly partisan grounds," he told The Atlantic Wire.
Waxman's aversion to the way Rep. Cliff Stearns, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has been handling the investigation reached a boiling point of sorts on Wednesday when Stearns released emails showing that Kaiser, an oil billionaire and supporter of President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, discussed the now-bankrupt solar company with White House officials despite claims from the Obama administration that Kaiser did not speak with the White House about Solyndra.
Republicans have used the emails to suggest the White House meddled in the approval of a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra granted by the Department of Energy in March 2009. Stearns told the Wire that "Solyndra is the poster child of this program and shows a disturbing close relationship between political donors and wealthy bundlers who invested in the company and the President."
Waxman criticized House Republicans for suggesting Kaiser was lobbying the White House on behalf of Solyndra—a much more serious charge than merely mentioning the company. "Republicans were willing to selectively point out three emails and ignore the fact that Kaiser contradicted their theory." He pointed out that on Tuesday, Kaiser testified before the subcommittee saying, "I never lobbied for Solyndra" adding that he "didn't want to talk to anyone in government about anything other than my charitable interests."
But Stearns says there's nothing unprecedented about the way he's conducted his investigation. "This investigation is no different from those conducted over 14 years by Rep. Dingell as chairman of this Oversight Subcommittee," he said. "Our investigation is only doing what the Constitution provides, namely, oversight of the Executive branch. We are looking at all the loan guarantees from DOE and through this investigation questioning the value of these loan guarantees to the American taxpayers."
He added that the bankruptcy of Beacon Power two weeks ago, a company that received a $43 million loan guarantee from the same Department of Energy program, shows the importance of the investigation.
The remarks by Waxman and Stearns follow news Thursday afternoon that the White House will comply with a subpoena for internal documents on Solyndra—a request the White House had rebuffed last Friday saying it was too broad and "driven more by partisan politics than a legitimate effort to conduct a responsible investigation.”
When asked about the White House's decision to comply, Waxman said he supported it, noting that if the administration hadn't, it would've become a GOP talking point for weeks. "It would feed right into the Republican propaganda efforts if they didn't cooperate."
He maintained that the Republicans' subpoena is "unnecessary" but he welcomed the White House's compliance saying "Congress is entitled to get information that is related to a legitimate oversight investigation involved with the loss of taxpayer money."
But not everyone agrees with Waxman on that point. "Obama should still resist," wrote Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter in Bloomberg this morning."There’s no reason to expect any president to cooperate in the destruction of his own administration." He cited a range of precedent from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton in which U.S. presidents have reserved the right to conceal internal deliberations. "If House Republicans want to end the loan program, they are free to vote its abolition, and then lobby the Senate to follow suit. If on the other hand their true goal is to embarrass the administration, then the president should continue to resist."
Republicans deny that political gamesmanship has anything to do with the Solyndra investigation. ”Getting the facts on how the taxpayers are out more than half a billion dollars is not a political matter," Stearns tells The Atlantic Wire. "This investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee is now nearing nine months, and it has been conducted carefully and fairly. If the White House and the Democrats would merely cooperate, then we could get all the facts to the American people and conclude the investigation.”
While the emails Stearns released showed no concrete evidence that Kaiser lobbied the White House on behalf of Solyndra, we asked Waxman if the revelation that Kaiser had discussed Solyndra with the White House made the bundler for Obama's 2008 campaign look bad.
"I don't read it that way," he said. "I don't think the context was about trying to get the White House to do anything but to identify the company that [Kaiser] invests in." Speculating about what the two parties could've been discussing, Waxman noted that Solyndra "was a company the White House thought would be a model for successful alternative energy. People were excited about Solyndra."
"It just seems to me this is a politically-rigged hearing and a politically-rigged investigation," said Waxman. "As a longtime investigator in Congress, that really shocked me."