Newly uncovered emails show the White House closely monitored the Energy Department's deliberations over a $535 million government loan to Solyndra, the politically-connected solar energy firm that recently went bankrupt and is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
The company's solar panel factory was heralded as a centerpiece of the president's green energy plan -- billed as a way to jump start a promising new industry. And internal emails uncovered by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee that were shared exclusively with ABC News show the Obama administration was keenly monitoring the progress of the loan, even as analysts were voicing serious concerns about the risk involved.
"This deal is NOT ready for prime time," one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan.
"If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY," wrote Ronald A. Klain, who was chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, in another email sent March 7, 2009. The "West Wing" is the portion of the White House complex that holds the offices of the president and his top staffers. Klain declined comment to ABC News.
Beginning in March, ABC News, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News, was first to report on simmering questions about the role political influence may have played in Solyndra's selection as the Obama administration's first loan guarantee recipient. Federal auditors had flagged the loan, saying some applicants had benefitted from special treatment.
The emails were uncovered by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings on the Solyndra loan Wednesday. The Republican-led House has been investigating the Obama administration's green energy loan program for months. That probe took on new urgency two weeks ago, when Solyndra abruptly shut its doors and laid off 1,100 employees. Last week, the FBI raided the factory as part of a joint investigation with the Energy Department's inspector general.
"This is not right. This is not good," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the House committee that is examining the loan. "It makes you sick to your stomach. This is taxpayer money."
As federal authorities examine whether Solyndra misled the government about its true financial state, the Obama White House is fielding fresh questions over why it pushed so hard for Solyndra. Officials with DOE and the Office of Management and Budget are expected to testify Wednesday. Executives with Solyndra, invited to appear as witnesses, will not attend Wednesday's hearing but have told the House committee they will voluntarily appear next week.
Obama's DOE has said it backed Solyndra as a potential game changer in the clean tech movement, but the company's collapse came after clear warning signs the venture was a high risk from the start.
The White House has argued that any effort to finance start-up businesses in a relatively new field like solar energy is bound to include risky ventures that could fail. They reject the notion being pushed by Republicans that Solyndra was chosen for political reasons. One of the largest private investors in the deal, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prominent fundraiser for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.