As Chu took questions under oath, those on either side of the aisle used his appearance as a chance to air sharply-worded, partisan positions on the Solyndra affair.
Republicans described the loan decision as perplexing, given that the Energy Department agreed to grant the loan in the face of a series of red flags and dire financial assessments that suggested, even early on, that Solyndra would not succeed.
"The number of red flags about Solyndra that were raised along the way -- many from within DOE -- and either ignored or minimized by senior officials is astonishing," said Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan.
Democrats took the position that Solyndra was the victim of a drastic economic change, during which the solar-panel market was swamped by lower-priced panels from China. They argued that the investigation into the solar company loan has been partisan, gratuitous, and a boon to oil and gas interests that oppose the rise of alternative energy sources.
"Our focus should be getting Americans back to work and rebuilding the economy, not manufacturing controversy," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California.
Chu blamed the failure of Solyndra on a "Tsunami" that swamped the solar industry. But ultimately, he said, he would accept full responsibility for the decision to risk $535 million on the firm.
"As the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind," Chu said.
Chu maintained that the program was untainted by politics, and that recipients of billions of dollars in federal loans were selected exclusively based on their potential for success – with no political consideration. In advance of Thursday's hearing, investigators with the Republican led committee released the latest batch of internal emails it has reviewed. Among them were emails that suggested that Energy officials asked the company to delay layoffs at its California facility until after the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
On Oct. 30, 2010, according to the memo, "advisors for Argonaut Private Equity, Solyndra's largest investor, discussed the status of talks with DOE about the restructuring of the Solyndra [loan] guarantee." The subcommittee quotes an Argonaut email from Steve Mitchell, Argonaut's managing director and a Solyndra board member, that says 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."
An Oct. 27 Argonaut email says, "The DOE has requested a delay until after the election (without mentioning the election)," and in an Oct. 30 email an unidentified Argonaut exec tells Ken Levit, director of George Kaiser's charity, "No announcement till after elections at DOE request."