The Next Twist in the Solyndra Scandal

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More Solyndra emails from the White House are coming. Just how many is unclear, as is whether or not they will contain any news. The last batch–hundreds of pages of correspondence between low-level Solyndra executives and President Obama’s advance team–revealed little, beyond one aide’s view that the manufacturing robots at Solyndra’s factory looked “awesome.” But Republicans hope that the next batch, requested by House Energy and Commerce Committee, will yield more about the relationship between the White House and George Kaiser, the billionaire investor in the solar company who also worked as a bundler for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

The original request from Congress was for all emails between the White House and Solyndra investors, but President Obama’s lawyers have since asked to narrow it down. The golden needle in this haystack is any evidence that White House relationships with donors improperly influenced the administration’s handling of Solyndra. So far, there has been none, and Republican claims of “crony capitalism” have been empty speculation. Obama Administration aides, who are familiar with the emails in question, say the new emails contain no evidence of impropriety. One administration aide went even further in a conversation with TIME for my story in this week’s newsstand edition, now available online to subscribers: Solyndra never came up in Kaiser’s meetings with senior White House officials. The topic of discussion focused on Kaiser’s philanthropic efforts.

Kaiser, who invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Solyndra, has previously denied that he discussed the company with Obama officials. But on March 12, 2009, just days after the Solyndra board approved the loan and on the very day a key Energy Department committee approved the loan, Kaiser toured the White House, meeting with domestic policy adviser Heather Higginbottom, economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and senior adviser Pete Rouse. The timing gave the appearance of impropriety, given that these are three people who are tough to book for a conversation. But if they never discussed Solyndra, and if no emails show otherwise, then the crony capitalism claim loses much of its heft.

I will have more on the Solyndra scandal, and what it means for the nation, in the next issue of TIME, due on newsstands later this week.

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