A top Obama fundraiser who went to work at the Department of Energy pushed for the quick processing of a loan guarantee for the defunct energy firm Solyndra after agreeing to avoid any “active participation” in the company’s application because his wife was working for a law firm that represented the company, e-mails obtained by TIME show.
“How –– hard is this? What is he waiting for? Will we have it by the end of the day?” Steve Spinner wrote to an Energy Department colleague on Aug. 28, 2009, in reference to information that could speed the final approval the Solyndra loan guarantee.
“I have OVP [Office of Vice President] and WH [White House] breathing down my neck on this,” he wrote earlier in the same e-mail chain. “They are getting itchy to get involved if needed. I don’t want that.”
The Department of Energy has previously stated that Spinner refrained from involvement in “any discussions on decisions affecting specific loan applications in which his spouse’s law firm was involved out of concern for the appearance of a conflict of interest.” An administration official said on Friday that the latest batch of e-mails is consistent with that statement because Spinner’s involvement was focused on speeding the process, not making decisions.
Spinner worked at the time as the Loan Programs Advisor and Recovery Act Team Chief Strategic Operations Officer. During the 2008 campaign, he raised at least $500,000 for the Obama campaign. His wife, Allison Spinner, worked as a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm that represented Solyndra.
Because of his wife’s work, Spinner agreed to “recuse myself from any active participation” in the Solyndra nomination. In a Sept. 23, 2009 e-mail to a Department of Energy ethics officer, he defined active participation as “solicitation, due diligence, negotiations.”
According to the e-mails, which were given to TIME by a government official, Spinner played a central role in making sure the process to review the company’s credit risk was moving forward in August of 2009, though the e-mails do not show him weighing in on the final outcome of that decision.
In another e-mail chain, Aditya Kumar, an aide to then Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Vice President Biden, wrote to Spinner on Aug. 19, 2009, to ask about concerns that had been raised about Solyndra’s future. “Folks here want to know what the funding community thinks of the Solyndra deal, and whether there are any concerns there,” wrote Kumar.
Spinner responded by saying he knew of no such concerns. He later forwarded a list of the private investors in the company, including a brief bio of George Kaiser, another Obama fundraiser who was one of the company’s major investors.
Solyndra, a manufacturer of cylindrical solar panels, declared bankruptcy in Sept. 2011, putting at risk a $527 million loan that was guaranteed by U.S. taxpayers. The company has since become the target of investigations by the FBI and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. President Obama has defended his administration’s conduct with respect to Solyndra, saying that the decision to award the loan was made on the merits, without any improper influence.
Shortly before the loan was awarded, on February 5, 2009, R. Martin Roscheisen, the chief executive officer of a Solyndra competitor, Nanosolar, wrote to the senior investment officer at the Department of Energy to express concern. “In light of the DoE loan program application of a competitor of ours, Solyndra, and given the well-publicized rapidly deteriorating financial state of this company as well as its failure to secure new investors and maintain a balance sheet adequate for product introduction, I would appreciate clarification from you about whether the DoE loan guarantee program is suitable as a ‘bail-out’ program for failing private manufacturers,” Roscheisen wrote. An administration official said that e-mail records do not contain a response to this question.
Friday afternoon e-mail dumps of records related to Solyndra have become a regular occurrence, and will likely continue in the future. House investigators have made broad, and growing requests, which are being processed by the White House Counsel’s office.
As recently as August of this year, as Solyndra teetered on default, the import of the company’s failure was not lost on White House officials. On August 26, Heather Zichal, a deputy assistant to the President on energy policy, e-mailed a colleague at the Office of Management and Budget, asking if he would be on an upcoming conference call about Solyndra.
“Y. What’s the deal?” the colleague wrote back.
“*#~@storm,” replied Zichal.
A week after the Obama Administration decided against putting more money into the company, Solyndra filed for bankruptcy.