White House Knew Solyndra Was In Trouble, Emails Indicate | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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    White House Knew Solyndra Was In Trouble, Emails Indicate

    The latest revelations regarding the $535 million federal loan that went to solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra in 2009 and the company's subsequent collapse into bankruptcy in 2011 are focusing on what the White House knew and when it knew it:

    "E-Mails Reveal Early White House Worries Over Solyndra," reads the headline on the lead story at NYTimes.com this hour.

    "Donor, Officials Warned Obama Not To Visit Solyndra After Financial Warnings," says WashingtonPost.com.

    "White House Brushed Off Solyndra Worries, Emails Show," writes The Wall Street Journal.

    Here's what today's stories are all about:

    Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee today released a seven-page memo that they say makes the case "there was internal disagreement within the Administration about Solyndra's viability and the effectiveness of the loan guarantee program throughout the process. [But] according to the documents, the decisions relating to Solyndra were made on the merits after vigorous debate and with awareness of the risks involved."

    The GOP wonders about that view. The Republican National Committee's Twitter page has posted a series of messages about the email revelations — and makes the case that the White House needs to answer more questions about why the loan was made.

    But the emails, President Obama's fellow Democrats argue, show that it was largely officials in the White House who raised concerns about Solyndra's viability — and that they were reassured by Department of Energy officials that the company, as one DOE official wrote, "is okay in the medium term, but will need some help of one kind or another down the road."

    In the end, Democrats say, the emails signal that it was decided that even if Solyndra might fail, the administration still needed to lend its support.

    "The reality is that if [President Obama] visited 10 such places over the next 10 months, probably a few will be belly-up by election day 2012," wrote Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Biden at the time. "But that to me is the reality of saying that we want to help promote cutting edge, new economy industries."

    But the correspondence also shows how concerned some officials and others were about Solyndra's financial shape, whether the president should be seen as supporting the company and whether it should be getting federal help.

    Prior to the president's May 2010 visit to the company's California plant, the committee memorandum shows:

    -- One Office of Management official wrote of Solyndra: "Hope doesn't default before then."

    -- Another OMB official wrote "I am increasingly worried that this visit could prove embarrassing to the Administration in the not too distant future, given 1) what we just heard today from DOE that Solyndra is delaying their IPO at least until the end of the year, and 2) what the auditors said about Solyndra making it through the year absent new financing."

    -- An Obama fundraiser, Steve Westly, "raised concerns about whether a visit to Solyndra by the President was a good idea in light of an audit report on the company. Mr. Westly wrote: 'A number of us are concerned that the president is visiting Solyndra. ... [T]here is an increasing concern about the company because their auditors, Coopers and Lybrand, have issued a 'going concern' letter. ... Many of us believe the company's cost structure will make it difficult for them to survive long term.'

    "Mr. Westly continued [in an email to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett]: 'Could you perhaps check with DOE to make sure they're comfortable with the company? I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press. If it's too late to change/postpone the meeting, the president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy, etc.' "

    -- Brad Jones of Redpoint Ventures, "an investment firm whose investments included Solyndra," wrote to then-Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers that "the allocation of spending to clean energy is haphazard. ... One of our solar companies with revenues of less than $100 million (and not yet profitable) received a government loan of $580 million; while that is good for us, I can't imagine it's a good way for the government to use taxpayer money."

    Update at 4:30 p.m. ET. Obama Has No Regrets:

    During an ABC News/Yahoo News interview this afternoon, the president said said that "hindsight is always 20/20," and that the Solyndra loan "went through the regular review process and people felt that it was a good bet."

    Also this afternoon, Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera released a statement that says, in part:

    "This program was established by Congress to support innovative, cutting edge projects that by their nature carry a degree of risk. These emails show that the Administration was aware of those risks, and that decisions were based on more than two years of rigorous analysis and due diligence by career officials spanning two administrations. As we have consistently said, there was a thoughtful and appropriate debate within the Administration and decisions were made solely on the merits of the project.

    "With China offering more than $30 billion in government financing to solar manufacturers last year, the United States simply cannot afford to stand on the sidelines while jobs go overseas. The fact is, the portfolio of projects supported by the Department's loan program is critical to our nation's clean energy future."

    Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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