The White House maintained Thursday that charitable work was the focus of a series of West Wing meetings between top Obama aides and a major investor in the solar energy firm Solyndra -- four of which occurred in the days before Solyndra won approval for a $535 million government loan.
"He was involved in a lot of charitable efforts and it's our understanding that while we haven't looked into every meeting and -- that he might have had here, that that was the focus of his conversations, generally speaking, at the White House," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to questions from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper.
The series of meetings with Oklahoma billionaire and Obama fundraiser George Kaiser, documented in White House visitor logs, have spurred interest among the administration's Republican critics, who have asked whether politics played a role in the ill-fated energy loan. Solyndra, the California solar panel company that benefitted from the half-billion dollar government gamble, declared bankruptcy earlier this month.
Kaiser, one of the company's chief investors, was a major "bundler" for Obama's presidential campaign. In the weeks before Solyndra became the first recipient of a "green energy" loan, Kaiser visited the offices of such senior aides as Valerie Jarrett, Austan Goolsbee and Pete Rouse. He visited the White House a dozen more times after the loan was approved.
Kaiser is also the man behind the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through investments in early childhood education, community health, social services and civic enhancement.
Administration officials have told ABC News that they have no reason to doubt an earlier statement by Kaiser, in which he said he did not seek to use political influence to help Solyndra secure the Solyndra loan. They also noted that another major investor in Solyndra was an investment fund overseen by the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, which tends to contribute to Republican causes.
Earlier this week, the prospect the taxpayers may have lost more than $500 million on the loan became the focus of a contentious Congressional hearing. House investigators released a report that included excerpts from dozens of emails between budget analysts and the White House. Several appeared to show the White House was pushing for the analysts to complete their due diligence of the deal quickly, so they could coordinate an announcement from either Obama or Vice President Biden.
"We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement rather than the other way around," an Aug. 31, 2009, email from OMB to an aide to Biden said.
During the White House briefing Thursday, Tapper asked if it was "standard operating procedure for the White House to get so involved in a loan" being handled by the Department of Energy.
"Well, I have to correct you because there's no evidence that the White House was involved in the loan," Carney said. "The White House was involved in trying to find out when a decision would be made, so they could make -- staff here could make a decision about the vice president's having an event." Carney said the scheduling of White House events involving the president and vice president is a complex process that "engages a lot of people."