WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration wanted the failing solar energy company Solyndra to delay announcing an early round of employee layoffs until after the 2010 midterm elections, according to newly released emails.
An October 2010 email from a Solyndra investment adviser to a colleague said Energy Department officials were pushing "very hard" to delay making the layoffs, an early sign of the company's financial woes, public until Nov. 3, 2010 -- the day after the midterm elections.
"Oddly they didn't give a reason for that date," the email states. The email was released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with dozens of others related to the Solyndra investigation.
Last week, the administration said congressional Republicans were using the Solyndra investigation as a partisan "political football." Spokesman Jay Carney said GOP lawmakers had "cherry-picked" documents, trying to create controversy over a decision-making process that the White House insists involved no political influence.
Solyndra announced dozens of layoffs on Nov. 3, 2010, after the election, but continued to receive federal assistance. After receiving a $528 million federal loan in 2009, the firm closed its doors on Aug. 31, 2011, and laid off its 1,100 workers.
The Oct. 30, 2010, email was from Steve Mitchell, managing director of Argonaut Private Equity, a major Solyndra investor, to George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who founded Argonaut and other firms. Kaiser was a "bundler" for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and a frequent White House visitor in 2009 and 2010. Argonaut invested $400 million in the solar company and Mitchell served on Solyndra's board.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera declined Tuesday to confirm events described in the emails or to identify who at the Energy Department may have urged the delay in the layoff announcement. He said "decisions about this loan were made on the merits."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is to testify before the House energy panel today.
Solyndra's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama. The Republican-controlled energy panel has subpoenaed White House communications on Solyndra and has released thousands of pages of emails related to the company.