Taking the Fifth on the Solyndra scandal

There is much we already know about the $527 million that the Energy Department has apparently lost on Solyndra, the bankrupt Fremont solar panel manufacturer. We know that the company applied for an Energy Department loan guarantee in early 2007, was given a bad credit rating by Fitch in 2008, and was denied a loan by the Bush Energy Department in January 2009.

We also know that in March 2009, Oklahoma billionaire and Solyndra investor George Kaiser, who raised more than $50,000 for President Barack Obama’s campaign, visited the White House four times. We know that on March 29, 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Solyndra had been awarded a $535 million loan guarantee.

We know that Solyndra filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission in December 2009 to begin the process for an initial public offering of stock. We know that after a dismal audit of the firm in March 2010, Solyndra withdrew the IPO in June 2010. We know that in July 2010 the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that the Energy Department was administering the loan program in a way that “makes the agency more susceptible to outside pressures.”

We know that after the company laid off 180 employees in November 2010, Kaiser successfully raised $75 million to keep the company running, but only after the Energy Department agreed — in direct contravention of federal law — to give private investors like Kaiser priority over taxpayers if the firm went bankrupt. We know that during all of this time Solyndra spent nearly $1.8 million on Washington lobbyists.

But there is still much we do not know. And so it is a shame that Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer W.G. Stover chose to invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves 20 separate times during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Friday. The questions posed by the committee members were tough but fair. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, wanted to know, “What happened between January of 2009 when the Bush administration rejected the loan application and March 2009 when the Obama administration reversed course and approved this half a billion dollar loan?”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked if any federal representatives were present at board meetings when the company realized they were not going to be profitable. Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., wanted to know if anyone from the Obama administration explained to Solyndra’s executives that subordinating taxpayer’s interests to the company’s private investors was a violation of federal law. The American people deserve answers to all of these questions. And they will get them, only now they will have to wait for the result of an FBI investigation and very possibly a criminal trial.

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