Photo: White HouseFor two months, Republicans have been searching for some evidence that political favoritism played a role in the Obama administration’s loan guarantee to Solyndra. They have failed. After a half-dozen hearings, testimony from virtually everyone involved, and the release of thousands of pages of emails and documents, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing. None.
In the course of this fruitless investigation, the White House has turned over 80,000 pages of documents related to the Solyndra loans. It turned over 15,000 more just on Wednesday. But Republicans on the Energy Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee have issued impossibly sweeping demands, requesting three years’ worth of private communications among the president’s top advisers, even the president’s own BlackBerry messages. (Rep. Jan Schakowsky [D-Ill.] compared Republicans obsessed with Solyndra to birthers, which seems more and more apt.)
The White House has been in talks with subcommittee Republicans, trying to at least narrow the request down to material relevant to the subject (hazy as it is) of the investigation. But the GOP is determined to force a public showdown, so they’ve voted to issue a subpoena that “asks for just about damn near anything,” as Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) puts it.
It’s obvious the GOP’s intent has always been to keep pushing until the White House invokes executive privilege. That will keep this faux scandal in the news a while longer. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), ranking members of the committee and subcommittee respectively, sent their counterparts in the GOP a letter [PDF] on Wednesday pleading with them not to “unnecessarily escalate an inter-branch conflict”:
As we have stated repeatedly, we believe that examination of the Department of Energy loan guarantee to Solyndra is a legitimate exercise of the oversight authority of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. We also believe that the Committee is entitled to obtain information from the Administration relevant to the responsible exercise of this authority, and the Committee’s authority to obtain such information does not stop at the door of the White House.
At the same time, a subpoena to the White House is an extremely serious step in any congressional investigation. In contrast to subpoenas to executive branch agencies, a subpoena to the White House has the potential to reach communications all the way to the President’s desk. Accordingly, when the investigative interests of Congress confront White House equities, it is the longstanding practice of Congress and the White House to engage in meaningful discussions to attempt mutual accommodation so that Congress can secure information necessary to advance its oversight goals without unduly imposing on executive branch prerogatives. In fact, we are unaware of any subpoena to the White House from the Committee on Energy and Commerce under previous chairs.
It’s not like Republicans have a longstanding commitment to transparency. You’ll recall that there was exactly one subpoena issued by the Energy and Commerce Committee to the Bush administration, investigating EPA’s controversial smog decision and blockage of the California emissions waver. That was a highly targeted subpoena (seeking just two documents), issued with bipartisan support. Bush told the committee to f*ck off.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) reminded his fellow committee members of that episode in a truly righteous rant in Wednesday’s committee hearing. It’s worth reading in full, but this bit is particularly rich:
In stark contrast to today’s zeal for issuing subpoenas to the White House, yesterday Republicans were singing a very different tune. Over in the Natural Resources Committee, Republicans voted unanimously against my motion to subpoena the CEOs of BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron who refused — that’s right, refused — to appear at a hearing before the Committee.
We weren’t asking for hundreds of thousands of pages of emails or documents. We just wanted the opportunity to question them about the environmental catastrophe that actually was the result of illegal activity.
While insisting on full disclosure and complete transparency from the White House on Solyndra, Republicans have put the CEOs from the companies responsible for the worst offshore oil spill in our history into a witness protection program where they are apparently going to be immune from any congressional or public scrutiny.
It goes without saying that this is a crassly political and breathtakingly irresponsible use of congressional subpoena power. And when I say “it goes without saying,” I mean literally. The reporters who have the unenviable job of following this stuff are not allowed to say it. So they quote Democrats on the committee saying it and Republicans on the committee saying the opposite. They quote a White House spokesperson saying that they were offering more documents the very night before the subpoena was issued and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) saying the White House “simply wants to delay and obstruct.” He said, she said. All casual readers pick up is that there’s yet another fight in D.C. And Republicans get to drag this farce out longer.