Solyndra executives stonewalled House lawmakers Friday as investigators sought to determine whether the White House was duped or the Obama administration ignored warning signs the solar panel company was not suitable for a $500 million loan. CEO Brian Harrison and Bill Stover, chief financial officer, repeatedly refused to answer questions from Republicans and Democrats, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights more than 20 times, prompting the frustrated lawmakers to end the hearing after just one hour.
“Let me just warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer rip-off—we’re not done. No we’re not,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This is not a debate about the virtues of clean energy,” Upton said. “It is a serious inquiry into reckless use of taxpayer dollars on a company that was known to pose serious risks before a single dime went out the door.”
Democrats accused Republicans of “badgering” the Solyndra executives by continuing to ask questions, such as whether and how they intended to repay taxpayers for the government-guaranteed loan, and whether taxpayers deserved to know what happened to the money.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) suggested Republicans were conducting the hearings just to get media attention, and said, “If they’ve asserted the Fifth Amendment, there’s nothing else we can do except badger them with questions.” The only question both men answered during the entire hearing was whether they intended to refuse to answer every question during the hearing.
“Yes,” both men responded.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R.-Fla.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said both men were originally called to testify last week, but their lawyers asked for more time and assured the panel the executives would cooperate.
“The CEO of Solyndra, Brian Harrison, will appear voluntarily and answer the committee’s questions …” said to one e-mail from Harrison’s lawyer released by the subcommittee.
“Unfortunately, we won’t get those answers today. Mr. Harrison’s and Mr. Stover’s counsel informed the committee three days ago that they would decline to answer the committee’s questions,” Stearns said.
“Congress and the American taxpayers have a right to know whether this loan guarantee was rushed out the door before it was ready for prime time, whether the administration doubled-down on a bad bet after knowing of the company’s dubious commercial prospects or, even worse, whether $535 million taxpayer dollars were wasted on false or incomplete information,” Stearns said.
“We intend to get those answers,” Stearns said.
Solyndra was hailed by the Obama administration as a leader in green energy and awarded the first guaranteed loan in the program.
However, the company went bankrupt in August, laid off 1,100 workers, and was recently raided by the FBI, which continues to investigate the company.
Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Tex.), asked the executives how a company goes from getting a presidential visit to an FBI raid? The executives did not answer the question.
Harrison scowled as lawmakers on both sides of aisle questioned the chief executives’ honesty and suggested they robbed taxpayers of $500 million.
“Half a billion dollars was taken from the American people. They won’t get it back,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R.-Colo.). Stearns said he met with Harrison just two months ago, and that the CEO “looked me in the eye and assured me that everything was just fine, and the company was on track to be cash-flow positive.”
“Mr. Harrison told me, and other members of this committee, that Solyndra was continuing to make excellent progress, that it was meeting all its cost and performance milestones, and that revenues were projected to nearly double in 2011,” Mr. Stearns said.
“I was hoping that Mr. Harrison would testify today and explain to me, and to this committee, how he could make those representations in late July about Solyndra’s improving prospects when the company was on the path to bankruptcy just 30 days later,” Stearns said.