Smacking down the latest Solyndra silliness
Photo: Thomas HawkI’m as sick of writing about Solyndra as y’all are of reading about it, but somebody’s got to write something sane about this latest chapter, and obviously the political press has no interest in doing so.
You may have seen the new rash of stories in the last couple of days. Politico’s is typical: “Emails tie Obama fundraiser to Solyndra push.” To the casual, busy news consumer, who never gets past the headline or the first couple ‘graphs, the implication here is clear: There’s a smoking gun! There was political favoritism here after all! Scandal!
Yet again, that impression is a) deliberately created by House Republicans, b) spread obediently and uncritically by the political press, and c) false.
Here’s what happened. George Kaiser is a rich guy who raised a ton of money for Obama’s 2008 campaign — he was a “bundler.” His family foundation’s venture-capital arm, Argonaut Ventures I, was one of Solyndra’s biggest investors. Kaiser has always claimed that he never lobbied the White House on behalf of Solyndra.
Recently, the White House released thousands and thousands of pages of internal documents. And Argonaut Ventures I provided 57,000 pages more. House Republicans — namely the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Fred Upton (R-Mich.) — scoured through them and picked out three — yes, three — to release to the media. Not surprisingly, the three were picked precisely to create the false impression that Kaiser was cozying up to the White House on Solyndra’s behalf. Not surprisingly, the media fell all over itself to pass along those Republican talking points.
However, as Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) detail in a blistering letter [PDF] to Upton and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the committee also has in its possession dozens of other emails that directly contradict the impression Republicans are trying to create. In addition, Kaiser directly contradicted the impression himself, when interviewed by the committee, but Upton and Stearns didn’t share that with the media either. Waxman and DeGette say:
Because the Committee’s investigation is still continuing, final conclusions cannot yet be drawn. The record before the Committee, however, does not provide support for the allegations that Mr. Kaiser lobbied the White House for Solyndra. To the contrary, the evidence the Committee has received to date supports the opposite conclusion: neither Mr. Kaiser nor individuals working for him lobbied the White House or asked White House officials to intervene in agency decisions on behalf of Solyndra.
They go on to cite evidence for this contention from documents Argonaut provided, Kaiser’s statements to the committee, and administration officials’ statements to the committee.
In fact, the emails released to the committee show that Kaiser was practically paranoid about the possible impression that he might using insider influence on behalf of private interests. He expressed the concern to one of his colleagues, Ken Levit, and Levit wrote back: “The truth is that the name of the company has never crossed your lips with the Administration (not so with Congress) and we’ve certainly never lobbied for the company.”
Kaiser and Levit were even directly asked by a Solyndra board member (and Argonaut director) to intervene with the White House. They both responded, separately, that doing so would be inappropriate and counterproductive. And they refused follow-up requests as well. When seated next to Obama at a fundraiser, Kaiser purposefully did not mention Solyndra.
Nine, count ‘em, nine officials from the Department of Energy and Office of Management and Budget were dragged before the committee, and they all, without exception, testified that Kaiser’s status as a fundraiser played no role whatsoever in their decisions about Solyndra.
Waxman and DeGette conclude:
We are growing increasingly concerned about the partisan way in which you are conducting the investigation. We support an investigation of Solyndra, but it should be fair and evenhanded. The tactics you are using — holding empty chair hearings, humiliating witnesses, denying Democratic requests for witnesses, seeking gratuitous conflicts with the White House, and now releasing misleading excerpts from e-mails — are unfair and reflect poorly on the Committee’s objectivity.
The thing is: everyone knows Waxman and DeGette are right. Politicos, staffers, journalists: everyone. It’s obvious. It long since became obvious to anyone paying close attention that Upton and Stearns are not going to find anything incriminating. They’re just out to score maximal political points.
But reporters aren’t allowed to say that. So they keep doing Upton’s and Stearns’ work for them, hyping this pathetic, deflating balloon of a scandal, giving right-wing media one more week’s worth of hysteria.