Congressional investigators try to deposition Solyndra loan memo author; DOE refuses

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Congressional investigators want to obtain transcribed interviews with Department of Energy officials involved with the Solyndra scandal, including the author of the legal memo justifying the restructuring of the solar company’s loan, but the DOE has refused to submit, saying House Republicans don’t have that authority.

On Oct. 18, the DOE informed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is leading the investigation into the Solyndra scandal, that it would not allow the committee to perform depositions of DOE officials, including Susan Richardson, chief counsel of the DOE Loan Programs Office.

Richardson authored the memo justifying the decision to restructure the $535 million DOE loan to solar company Solyndra, ensuring that private investors would be paid back before taxpayers in the event of bankruptcy.

Solyndra declared bankruptcy on Aug. 31, and it has been in the crosshairs of congressional Republicans ever since. GOP lawmakers say that despite serious warning signs, the loan was fast-tracked by the Obama administration in an effort to tout the president’s green energy initiative.

The Obama administration and the Energy Department say the Solyndra loan was properly vetted and an unfortunate failure in an otherwise successful program.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns — both Republicans — responded to the DOE’s decision in a letter today Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (RELATED: In ironic nod to ‘Buffett rule,’ Sen. Sessions proposes ‘Solyndra rule’)

“We had hoped the DOE would allow Ms. Richardson to appear voluntarily and answer the committee’s questions during an in-depth, transcribed interview,” the letter reads. “While the documents provide some information about the DOE’s decision on subordination, the committee has many unanswered questions concerning its creation.”

“Mr. Lynch has indicated that the DOE is willing to make Ms. Richardson available to testify under oath at a hearing about the restructuring and subordination,” the letter continued. “We are therefore puzzled as to why DOE refuses to make her available for a transcribed interview on the same matters, and ask you to reconsider your position.”

The DOE counters that it has gone to great lengths to cooperate with the committee, including making Richardson available for interviews.

“We have consistently demonstrated our commitment to cooperating with the Committee’s investigation,” A DOE spokesperson said. “As part of that effort, we offered to make Susan Richardson available to brief the investigative staff, as she has done on at least four occasions. We also offered to work with them to make the appropriate legal staff from the Department available to testify under oath before the Committee if needed after the briefing. This is in addition to offering to make Secretary Chu available for a hearing on November 1st or 2nd, voluntarily providing more than 65,000 pages of documents to the committee, and providing the head of the loan program for a committee hearing.”

What the DOE says the committee doesn’t have the power to do, and what the DOE refuses to submit to, is compel a witness to perform a deposition.

At issue with Richardson’s memo is whether the restructuring of the Solyndra loan violated a federal rule which declares; “the [guaranteed] obligation shall be subject to the condition that the obligation is not subordinate to other financing.”

In her memo, Richardson justified the decision by arguing that the rule is “applicable only as a condition precedent to the issuance of a loan guarantee. It is not a continuing restriction on the authority of the secretary.”

In other words, the rule only applies when the loan is first structured, not after.

The White House has also refused to disclose large amounts of internal communications between it and Solyndra, claiming executive privilege.

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