House Republicans investigating the ill-fated Solyndra loan guarantee released a new batch of e-mails today shedding more light on the evolving scandal. I’ve been looking over the documents all afternoon, and just stumbled upon an amusing exchange between Oklahoma billionaire and prominent Obama fundraiser George Kaiser and his investment partners Ken Levit and Steve Mitchell. The Kaiser Family Foundation, through its investment arm Argonaut Ventures, was the largest private investor in the now-defunct solar panel company.
On Nov. 7, 2010, Kaiser sent Levit an e-mail titled “National Review blog” citing this Planet Gore post by Greg Pollowitz: “Time to Subpoena the D.O.E. over Solyndra.” Greg was referencing another post by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air concerning Solyndra’s Nov. 3, 2010 announcement that, despite receiving a $535 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan, the company was canceling a planned expansion and laying off more than 150 employees.
Levit responded: “Faster than I expected but it’s a near certainty that this will be a House investigation. Bummer. The company will be distracted by this. The are going to need a federal strategy–offense and defense.”
Kaiser sent the same e-mail to Mitchell, who wrote back: “Thanks. Saw it this morning. Things are going much better at the company and the DOE has been working to help us be successful – I’m sure this will limit the DOE’s ability to act like a lender instead of a government bureaucracy.”
Of course, things weren’t “going much better” at all. Kaiser replied: “Yeah but the other issue is how we/they prepare themselves for Congressional investigation of the loan award by DOE.”
The rest is history. Mitchell and Levit would help the struggling Solyndra negotiate a loan restructuring agreement that would give private investors priority over taxpayers with respect to the first $75 million recovered in the event of the company’s collapse. That agreement was finalized in February 2011. Shortly thereafter, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations launched its investigation. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy — and was subsequently raided by the FBI — just seven months later.
What is particularly interesting about this exchange is the timing. Recall that previously released e-mails show that on Oct. 25, 2010, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison informed the DOE that he planned to announce a round of job cuts before the end of the month. But with the midterm elections taking place on November 2, and given the political capital the White House had invested in Solyndra, touting it as a shining example of President Obama’s successful “green jobs” initiative, the administration urged the company to reconsider.
“[DOE] did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3rd — oddly they didn’t give a reason for that date,” Mitchell wrote on Oct. 30, 2010. (We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that last bit was meant as sarcasm.) He would later note that the layoff announcement has been postponed “till after elections at DOE request.”
It’s pretty telling that both Kaiser and Levit’s instinctive response was to prepare for a Congressional probe, but it also raises the question: If they were so certain that House Republicans would open an investigation into Solyndra, why on earth would they sign on to a controversial and legally dubious restructuring agreement to put themselves first in line ahead of American taxpayers, knowing what the potential ramifications might be?
But hey, at least they were getting their news from the right sources. As Greg points out, it’s a shame House Republicans weren’t paying as close attention.