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The Obama administration, in a peculiar attempt at damage control, is maintaining that the Solyndra debacle, is no debacle at all. As Mollie reported yesterday, the President told ABC News that he had no regrets over the $535 million loan guarantee to the failed solar panel company. “Hindsight is always 20/20…It went through the regular review process and people felt that it was a good bet,” President Obama said.
A Dept. of Energy spokesman followed suit with a variation on the theme.
“This program was established by Congress to support innovative, cutting-edge projects that by their nature carry a degree of risk,” said Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman. “These emails show that the Administration was aware of those risks, and that decisions were based on more than two years of rigorous analysis and due diligence by career officials spanning two administrations. As we have consistently said, there was a thoughtful and appropriate debate within the Administration and decisions were made solely on the merits of the project.”
But the White House narrative doesn’t quite seem to mesh with the latest round of incriminating Solyndra e-mails that show that the Energy Department was poised to approve a second loan of $469 million for the company, even as Solyndra’s auditors repeatedly warned that the company was already caught in a death spiral of debt and ever increasing expenses. Emails exchanged between the Energy Dept. and the White House at the very least suggest some very reckless behavior.
Even in May 2010, Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s top advisers — his senior adviser on stimulus , Matt Rogers, and his chief of staff, Rod O’Connor — were telling the White House not to worry about the auditors’ warnings on Solyndra’s finances. They also referenced the need for more federal money for Solyndra.
O’Connor told a top White House adviser to Vice President Biden that the warnings were exaggerated, when a venture capitalist and Obama donor had flagged the company’s finances as a reason the president shouldn’t visit Solyndra as scheduled on May 25. O’Connor also raised the issue of more government support for Solyndra.
“Bottom line is that we believe the company is okay in the medium term, but will need some help of one kind or another down the road,” O’Connor wrote on May 24.
Rogers, who had been a senior consultant at McKinsey before joining the administration and returned to that company last fall, told the White House the same day that such auditors’ warnings were typical for startups. Rogers acknowledged shifts in the market that were not favoring Solyndra, but stressed the short term and raised no concerns about the president visiting the company in a high-profile press conference touting Solyndra’s work.
Whether continued investigations reveal the whole fiasco to be merely the result of reckless and sloppy attitudes, or more consequentially, the result of fraud and corruption, one thing’s for certain. As Larry Summers himself said, “[Government] is a crappy venture capitalist.”