House Republicans’ ongoing investigation into the Solyndra loan scandal has unearthed a wealth of e-mail evidence offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Obama administration’s ill-fated decision to guarantee a half-billion-dollar loan to a struggling solar company. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has heard testimony from top administration officials, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu. However, a number of the key players involved in the Solyndra decision have long since abandoned their posts. The American people deserve answers from all of them.
Jonathan Silver, Executive Director, Department of Energy Loans Program Office
Silver was named head of the DOE loans program in November 2009. That was after the department had finalized the initial $535 million loan guarantee, but e-mails reveal the pivotal role Silver played in subsequent decisionmaking.
A series of e-mails dating from February and March of 2010 suggest that Silver worked to win support for a second loan guarantee for Solyndra. Though the proposal was ultimately rejected, Silver at one point told Solyndra executives that a second loan could be approved as early as May 2010. E-mails between top Solyndra officials and the company’s major private investors boast of a “successful” and “encouraging” meeting with Silver during that time period, and indicate that Silver was a major advocate for Solyndra within the DOE:
[Solyndra CEO] Chris Gronet had a good call with Jonathan Silver of the DOE today. Apparently our application has been caught up with several other groups who were also wanting a second bite at the DOE loan guaranty apple. This started a policy discussion as to whether a company should be able to get a second loan. Jonathan Silver championed the cause that they should and he has just this week apparently won that battle. He would not say that we are the first one that will be considered but he all but did.
Interestingly, top Solyndra officials, as well as investors such as Steve Mitchell, seem to have come to the conclusion that Silver was an especially politically minded individual. Mitchell is the managing director at Argonaut Ventures, the investment arm of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, run by the Oklahoma billionaire and major Obama fundraiser of that name. In an e-mail to Kaiser, Mitchell wrote: “The DOE really thinks politically before it thinks economically.” One Solyndra official concurred after meeting with Silver in February 2010, describing him as “acutely sensitive to the political ramification of any [Loans Program Office] action. . . . Rather than challenge the merits of our application, he moved on to think through the political implications of a second loan guarantee.”
The second loan guarantee was never approved, but additional e-mails indicate that in July 2010 Silver was still seeking out additional ways to help Solyndra become profitable — for example, by petitioning the General Services Administration to steer government contracts Solyndra’s way. As part of the 2009 stimulus package, the GSA received $5.5 billion to update government facilities with “green” technology such as solar panels, and at the time of Silver’s inquiries had more than 250 such projects in the works. “You and your team are doing amazing things!” Silver wrote to one GSA official. “I am copying Chris Gronet here. Chris is the CEO of Solyndra and I know your two teams will have a lot to discuss.” He then helped to arrange an in-person meeting between the two.