Internal White House emails reveal deep concern, embarrassment over Solyndra

Gregg Re Editor
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Less than one year after President Barack Obama touted his administration’s $535 million loan guarantee for green energy company Solyndra during his State of the Union address, embarrassed White House officials wanted nothing to do with the company, newly released internal emails reveal.

The emails, which are part of the administration’s seventh document dump in response to congressional subpoenas, show just how little faith the White House had in the former green tech darling — weeks before the Department of Energy restructured the failing company’s loan to ensure it tens of millions of dollars in additional financing.

In May 2010, the president said that “companies like Solyndra” are the “true engine of economic growth.” In his State of the Union address earlier that year, the president referred to the company as a veritable stimulus darling, a “California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels.”

But White House communications officials didn’t even want the president seen near Solyndra executives during the 2011 State of the Union address.

“Can’t do Solyndra … they’ve run into some issues recently. :(,”  Daniella Gibbs Léger, director of White House message events, wrote in a Jan. 5, 2011 email, according to Politico.

And an administration official told Politico on Friday that the idea of seating Solyndra executives near the president “didn’t even make it to any sort of serious consideration.”

But there were signs within months of the president’s public praise for the company that Solyndra was in trouble.

On Dec. 8, 2010, White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner and a colleague lamented Solyndra’s future.

“You hear solyndra is in a severe liquidity crises and we areent likely given next doe loan? Banner week,” Heather Zichal wrote. Browner replied, “Yep. Ugh.”

Solyndra wasn’t just raising red flags among staffers at the White House communications department.

In December 2009, top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote to an investor tied to Solyndra that “gov is a crappy vc [venture capitalist] and if u were closer to it you’d feel more strongly.”

Still, just months after these internal White House emails were sent, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank reported that, despite Solyndra’s apparent problems, the company had secured an interest rate on its loan that was dramatically lower than the interest rates on the loans assigned to several other comparable green energy projects.

And, even though Solyndra was such a taboo topic in the White House that lower-level communications personnel reacted to the mere mention of the company with a sad-faced emoticon, the Department of Energy agreed to restructure the company’s loan to allow for $75 million in additional financing.

George Kaiser, a billionaire who raised over $50,000 for Obama during the 2008 campaign, was one of Solyndra’s biggest investors. Several Solyndra shareholders had made sizable donations to the Obama campaign.

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in September 2011 and laid off virtually all of its employees. Solyndra’s offices have since been raided by the FBI, and the company is under investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Treasury Department.

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Gregg Re