The “cronygate” scandal over stimulus billions that were sunk into dubious green-energy initiatives, which appeared to benefit donors with close political ties to the Obama White House, widened on Tuesday with the announcement that executives of the failed Solyndra solar-panel firm will refuse to answer questions put to them by a House investigative committee.
Attorneys for Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and the company’s CFO, W.G. “Bill” Stover, submitted correspondence to the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, stating the two will seek Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Solyndra received $528 million in federal loan guarantees taxpayers must pay for.
“I have advised Mr. Harrison that he should decline to answer questions put to him by this subcommittee based on his rights under the Fifth Amendment,” attorney Walter F. Brown Jr. wrote to committee Chairman Clifford B. Stearns, R-Fla.
That Harrison won’t testify is sure to irk Democratic members of the oversight subcommittee, who said they wanted Harrison to explain optimistic assurances he provided assuring them, indicating the company was doing just fine shortly before it declared bankruptcy.
Two days after the company declared bankruptcy this month, the FBI executed a search warrant and removed materials from Solyndra’s Fremont, Calif., headquarters.
Solyndra’s demise is especially embarrassing to the Obama administration because the president toured its plant and touted it as a model for an influx of high-paying, green-energy jobs that he promised as part of his stimulus program. So far, those jobs have not materialized, and unemployment remains 9.1 percent. About 1,100 workers lost their jobs when Solyndra ceased operations.
Also Tuesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, confirmed reports during a media conference call that his committee will launch a second, separate probe into a series of green-energy deals involving Obama “bundlers” who made major contributions, and who later may have had insider knowledge or influence related to energy-related decisions.
“You have multiple entities, Solyndra is just one of them, in which political appointees are able to pick winners, often winners that are . . . very easy to check as major supporters of the president,” Chairman Issa said Tuesday in response to a Newsmax question. “So there’s an ideological bent, there’s a campaign finance bent, and then there’s the actual ‘felony stupid-investment.’
“That last one,” he added, “we’re going to leave mostly to Energy & Commerce. We’re not going to try and deal with the efficacy of the investment, but rather with whether or not this pattern of spending your money, whether it’s in stimulus funds or others, should be modified or eliminated . . . I think any time you give political appointees billions of dollars to put in a piggy bank, you’re going to have this kind of misconduct.”
The refusal by Solyndra executives to answer the oversight’s subcommittee’s questions is likely to raise additional questions about what top Obama administration officials knew about Solyndra’s imminent collapse, and when they knew it. The oversight subcommittee had to resort to issuing subpoenas after the Energy Department refused to respond to its requests for information, according to Stearns.
An attorney for CFO Stover also advised the subcommittee Tuesday that his client would not be testifying. “Under these circumstances, Mr. Stover must invoke his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” wrote Little. “It would be irresponsible for anyone in his position not to do so.”
In related news, leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, expressing concern that in light of the Solyndra scandal, the department may be rushing its distribution of an additional $9 billion in alternative-energy grants and loan guarantees that it must approved by Sept. 30. The letter asks Chu for additional information and requests a briefing by a member of his staff.
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