President Obama told ABC News Monday that he does not regret touting the solar company Solyndra as a model of his jobs program, or loaning $535 million in taxpayer money to the company before it declared bankruptcy.
"Hindsight is always 20/20," Obama told "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview broadcast online Monday. "It went through the regular review process and people felt that it was a good bet." The interview was the first under a new alliance between ABC News and Yahoo News.
ABC News asked the president about the Solyndra loan as Congress released White House emails that show a top donor to Obama was in direct contact with one of the president's closest advisers about the federal energy loan program. Steve Westly, a California venture capitalist who raised more than $500,000 for Obama's campaign, exchanged emails with Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's closest advisers, to warn her about political fallout that could ensue if the president visited the factory being built by Solyndra.
"Could you perhaps check with [the Energy Department] to make sure they're comfortable with the company? I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press," Westly said. "If it's too late to change/postpone the meeting, the president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy."
In May 2010, White House officials began to organize a trip for President Obama to visit the Solyndra factory that ultimately occurred on May 25, 2010.
The emails were released by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Monday to emphasize that no government decisions relating to Solyndra were influenced by considerations relating to campaign donations. However, the emails also show for the first time that a major donor had access to top presidential advisers on matters concerning the loan program.
"The Democrats deny that any political influence was involved, yet in their own memo they highlight the role of Obama fundraiser Steve Westly in the discussions," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R.-Fla., who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee that has been investigating the Solyndra loan.
The emails also show deep reservations from analysts at the Office of Management and Budget about the decision to loan $535 million to Solyndra -- reservations that have since been justified. Last month, the California solar power company filed for bankruptcy, and their offices were raided by the FBI. The new documents also show there was vigorous debate inside the White House about the wisdom of making risky investments in clean energy with taxpayer dollars.
The most pointed example of that came during an email exchange between top White House economic advisor Larry Summers and Solyndra investor Brad Jones, of Redpoint Ventures. In December 2009, Summers sought advice from Jones about the administration's economic policy.
Jones reply included a harsh assessment of the Energy Department's loan program.
"The allocation of spending to clean energy is haphazard," he wrote. "The government is just not well equipped to decide which companies should get the money and how much. … One of our solar companies with revenues of less than $100 million (and not yet profitable) received a government loan of $580 million; while that is good for us, I can't imagine it's a good way for the government to use taxpayer money."
Summers accepted the critique, saying, "I relate well to your view that [government] is a crappy vc [venture capitalist]…"