Aug 9, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(WASHINGTON POST) President Obama’s staff arranged for him to be personally briefed last summer on a loan program to help clean-energy companies, two months before the program was thrust into headlines by the collapse of its flagship, the solar company Solyndra, records show.
About the same time, then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley resolved a dispute among administration officials over another project in the program, clearing the way for a $1.4 billion loan, according to documents and sources familiar with the situation. The documents, a series of e-mails among Energy Department staff members involved in managing the program, provide new details about the level of White House involvement in the controversial initiative. White House officials have said in the past that final decisions about which companies would receive the loan guarantees were made by career staff members at the Energy Department, not political appointees.
Administration officials said Wednesday that the e-mails show that the White House involvement was appropriate and that there was no pressure on agency officials.
That loan program, a signature piece of the Obama administration’s effort to stimulate the economy, has become a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign. Republicans have charged that the program wasted critical stimulus money meant to create jobs, spending it instead on ill-advised projects that benefited Democratic fundraisers.
The documents, provided to The Washington Post by Republican investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, show that White House aides asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu to deliver a June 27, 2011, presentation to the president on the status of the loan program. The interest in a presidential briefing came as other senior administration figures were challenging parts of the program and debating whether the Energy Department was cutting deals that gave “unjust enrichment” to private companies.
An Energy staffer explained that the president “wants to know its status” so he could be prepared when the loan program came up “at official events and political events where he interacts with [the] business community and Congressional members.” The e-mail from the department’s chief of staff, Brandon Hurlbut, went on to say that many people attending such gatherings “have some affiliation or interest in the numerous applications received that involve substantial funds.”
The documents do not indicate whether the presidential briefing took place as scheduled and, if so, whether Obama offered guidance on the program’s future.
‘A right to know’
On Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and other Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote to Obama requesting a “full and complete” explanation of his involvement in the issue and seeking additional internal documents, including a list of all private individuals with whom the president met to discuss loan projects.
“The American people have a right to know the level of involvement you and other senior White House officials had in the loan guarantee program,” the committee members wrote. “Your interactions with business leaders at political events affected decisions to give billions of taxpayer dollars in loan guarantees to green energy companies.”