White House Rebuffs Subpoena on Failed Solar Firm Solyndra

Sunday, 06 Nov 2011 03:05 PM

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The White House is strongly rebuffing a subpoena from House Republicans seeking all communications about a failed solar panel manufacturer that received a half-billion dollar federal loan guarantee.

In a letter to two top Republicans on the House energy panel, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler says partisan politics is driving the request.

The White House has already turned over 85,000 pages of documents on Solyndra. The company filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 workers after receiving $528 million in federal backing.

Ruemmler said those documents show no wrongdoing or political favoritism by the administration.

House Republicans have used Solyndra to highlight what they see as President Barack Obama’s failure to create jobs.

Congressional Republicans on Thursday authorized their second subpoena, demanding documents from the White House on contacts that President Obama's top aides might have had with Solyndra.

The 14-9 party-line vote authorized the subpoena a day after another panel approved a subpoena for Homeland Security Department deportation records. Taken together, they underscored a sense among Republicans that the White House is selective with the information it releases.

Democrats said it was unprecedented to subpoena the White House on Solyndra in this fashion, but Republicans said they have run out of patience with administration "stalling."

"We simply cannot allow the executive branch at its highest levels to pick and choose what they will produce, or whether they will produce anything at all," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Florida Republican who runs the investigative panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Republicans are seeking any White House documents related to the solar-panel manufacturer, which received special attention from the White House, was approved for $535 million in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees, borrowed $528 million, then filed for bankruptcy two months ago.

Democrats said the GOP's request was so broad that it could even include Mr. Obama's travel plans or his BlackBerry.

Both of this week's votes authorized subpoenas, but didn't issue them. That decision will be made by the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in Solyndra's case, or of the Judiciary Committee in the case of the deportation data.

Together, they mark an escalation in tension between Congress and the administration, as Republicans become increasingly aggressive in pushing back against what they see as stonewalling of their new majority in the House.

Democrats said both votes were premature. They pointed to ongoing discussions between Homeland Security and the Judiciary Committee on the one hand, and between the White House and the Energy and Commerce Committee on the other, as evidence that the administration is acting in good faith.

"The White House repeatedly said they had turned over documents and they were willing to turn over more documents," said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat and ranking member on the investigations panel.

She said the administration has turned over tens of thousands of documents.

Each side now argues that the other is acting in bad faith.

Republicans point to a lengthy effort to obtain documents, and said it is only when the committee begins to threaten subpoenas that action is taken.

Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the full committee, said several more boxes of documents were released to the press Wednesday night even before they were turned over to the committee. Those documents reportedly show that the Obama administration mulled a bailout of Solyndra just days before the solar-panel manufacturer collapsed.

Democrats said they support legitimate requests for information and back the House's right to investigate the administration. But they said the request for all potential Solyndra communications was a broad fishing expedition, and accused the GOP of short-circuiting usual negotiations.

"Apparently what the committee really wants is a confrontation with the president," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Mr. Waxman, a past chairman of the House's chief investigative committee, said he had issued many subpoenas, but never against a White House. He said he was always able to reach an agreement with administration attorneys and that's what Republicans should try to do in this case.

Underscoring the level of disagreement, the two sides couldn't even agree on whether it was better to have more, or fewer, documents turned over.

Republicans said many of the 80,000 pages sent to the committee were irrelevant technical papers. Democrats said that is a problem that comes with broad requests and that the Republicans' expansive inquiry could end up producing so much information that it hinders the investigation.

The White House has sent several letters objecting to the broad request. It says the committee already has obtained documents from Cabinet departments and that Congress doesn't need to see the White House documents.

"We believe agency communications with the White House are the best source of information to accommodate the committee's interest in this matter," Kathryn H. Ruemmler, the White House's chief attorney, said in an Oct. 25 letter.

She said the White House has an interest in confidentiality of its internal communications.

But Republicans said the White House has not claimed executive privilege, which is one of the exceptions that could make some documents off-limits to a congressional investigation.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to testify on Solyndra at a Nov. 17 committee meeting.

Late Wednesday, another House panel, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Mr. Chu saying he has failed to answer questions on a round of loan guarantees that the Energy Department finalized on Sept. 30.

Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, set a deadline of Monday for the Energy Department to produce the information.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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