Senior Obama Administration officials decided to restructure the government's half-billion-dollar loan to the California solar energy firm Solyndra even after government analysts had concluded it would cost taxpayers far less to allow the company to fail, according to a newly released report on the investigation into the Solyndra matter by House Republicans.
The decision appeared to be made at least in part out of concern with how it would look if Solyndra -- the first recipient of government funds meant to spark growth in the nation's production of cleaner burning fuels -- went bust, according to the report, which quoted extensively from internal administration emails.
"DOE is likely to be very sensitive about optics if it should default," one analyst wrote in an email.
"A meltdown that would likely be very embarrassing for DOE and the Administration," wrote another.
Solyndra ultimately did go bankrupt, giving rise to a long running political battle between the Obama Administration and House Republicans over the way the federal government doled out billions of dollars to companies trying to develop cleaner burning fuels and more environmentally friendly technology. The dispute has become a central point of attack against Obama by his Republican rival in the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney. The government's loss in the Solyndra bankruptcy has become the subject of campaign attack ads, and Romney visited the shuttered company headquarters in Freemont, California to further press the point.
"Solyndra should serve as a cautionary tale on how political pressures and an administration's desire to create political events to highlight its policies can result in poor decision-making," says the report from Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Democratic members of the committee responded by releasing their own report, saying that "The Republican report contains obvious inaccuracies, frequent misstatements, cherry-picked evidence and glaring omissions of exculpatory information received by the Committee."
The Democratic report said that the majority's report falsely insinuated that Solyndra decisions were influenced by political contributions and made "misleading assertions about Solyndra's economic prospects," and "incorrect claims" about how time pressures had influenced the decision-making process.
White House officials responded to the GOP report Thursday by emphasizing that, in their view, the investigation failed to produce evidence of the most stinging allegation that has been leveled by Republicans – that of political meddling. White House officials have said politics never entered the discussion to loan money to Solyndra, or later to attempt to save the company from failure.
"This is month 18 of this Congressional investigation and everything disclosed in the 215,000 pages of documents, 14 committee staff briefings, five Congressional hearings, 72,000 pages from Solyndra investors, and Committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms what we said on day one: this was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. "As Republicans won't answer how much investigation has cost taxpayers, we believe they should instead be focused on legislation to creating jobs and grow the economy."
This major point of contention -- about the role of politics in the loan-making process -- is not unaddressed in the report. House investigators include evidence, much of it already reported by ABC News and others, that suggests the Department of Energy sped up the loan to Solyndra to allow for the vice president to announce it.
But evidence suggesting the influence of a major Obama donor who controlled entities that were large investors in Solyndra was less clear cut. The report includes emails indicating that Oklahoma billionaire Robert Kaiser was concerned about the government loan, but no specific evidence showing he tried to use his influence as a donor to sway the administration's actions.