E-mails obtained by the House committee investigating the $535 million Solyndra loan scandal reveal that George Kaiser, the Oklahoma billionaire who was heavily invested in Solyndra through his Family Foundation, and a major Obama fundraiser in 2008, had discussions about the solar panel company with White House officials, directly contradicting earlier statements from both the White House and Kaiser himself.
This comes less than a week after the White House rejected a subpoena issued by the committee seeking internal White House documents relation to Solyndra dismissing the request as “overbroad” and was not grounded in any evidence of wrongdoing. In a letter to White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, top Republicans on the committee — Reps. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.) — present the newly uncovered e-mails as further justification for their request.
“The White House has repeatedly stated that no political influence was brought to bear with regard to Solyndra, and that Mr. George Kaiser, a Solyndra investor and Obama fundraiser, never discussed Solyndra during any of his seventeen visits to the White House,” they write. “Documents recently obtained by the Committee directly contradict those statements.”
Upton and Stearns point to comments that a White House official made to ABC News as part of Oct. 6, 2011, report:
A White House official familiar with an internal review of meetings between Kaiser and such senior presidential aides as Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, told ABC News that the White House now firmly believe that Kaiser never broached the subject of the Solyndra loan.
Kaiser has “said publically (sic) that Solyndra was not discussed at these meetings, and we have no reason to dispute that,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had not been given approval to discuss the matter.
The e-mails reveal conversations between Kaiser and two associates — Steve Mitchell, the managing director of Argonaut Private Equity, which acts as the investment arm of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Ken Levit, executive director of the foundation.
A March 5, 2010 e-mail sent from Kaiser to both Mitchell and Levit describes a meeting with senior White House officials in which Solyndra was discussed as one of the administration’s “prime poster children”:
BTW, a couple of weeks ago when Ken and I were visiting with a group of Administration folks in DC who are in charge of the Stimulus process (White House, not DOE) and Solyndra came up, every one of them responded simultaneously about their knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one of their prime poster children.
That e-mail was in response to a message from Levit, detailing a phone conversation between Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet and Jonathan Silver, the former head of the Department of Energy loans program who recently stepped down. They appear to have been discussing the possibility of Solyndra receiving a second DOE loan guarantee, and it is clear that administration viewed Solyndra as a priority (though the second loan never went through):
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…So it appears things are headed in the right direction and Chu is apparently staying involved in Solyndra’s application and continues to talk up the company as a success story.
Earlier, on Feb. 27, 2010, Levit wrote to Mitchell to describe an evidently successful meeting with White House officials in Vice President Biden’s office. “The about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra,” Levit wrote. Mitchell responded: “That’s awesome! Get us a doe loan.”
In October 2010, Kaiser urged Mitchell and Levit to “pursue your contacts with the WH,” in an effort to help Solynda, which by then had encountered substantial financial difficulties, and “keep us up to speed.” They appear to be discussing efforts to have the DOE loan restructured, which ultimately did happen in February 2011, under terms that dramatically favored private investors like Kaiser. “Understood,” Mitchell responded. “The WH meeting is more about assistance in selling panels to the government that it is about getting the DOE loan revised. The WH has offered to help in the past and we do have contact within the WH that we are working with.”