“Ya know, I’m focusing on a major announcement today for the City Of Chicago,” former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told a Chicago radio station Sunday when asked about his role in the Solyndra scandal. “I don’t actually remember that or know about it. So, what I’m dealing with is what I’m dealing with here today.”
Emanuel’s dodge is improbable given his former position. It also strengthens the case that the Obama Administration cannot be trusted in its investigation of Solyndra’s half-billion-dollar loan and subsequent bankruptcy – which are now being probed by three different executive-branch agencies.
In image management terms, the administration's handling of Solyndra has been disastrous. Obama press secretary Jay Carney claimed last week that the president has not been briefed on the scandal, which is either an absurd lie or a terrifying truth. The Energy Department failed to put forward a complete and coherent narrative during last week’s House Commerce and Energy Committee hearing, or for that matter to field officials who were actually involved in the original loan. (Both Department of Energy loan executive Jonathan Silver and deputy Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients took their respective jobs after the Solyndra loan was decided in March 2009.)
Emanuel’s statement is more flailing, and it is almost certainly false. In fact, one of Emanuel’s assistants in August 2009 sent an email to Office of Management and Budget trying to “speed along” the deal that awarded a $535 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan at a sub-market interest rate to Solyndra, a company with a dubious product, a poor market position and finances that had been widely criticized even at the time. The first duty of a chief of staff is to handle staff; how can Rahmbo, now the mayor of Chicago, claim he didn’t know about this activity?
Though the common view of P.R. flacks is that they lie for a living, effective crisis management requires that you make your factually accurate version of the story public, in a form that is thoroughly vetted and documented so you won’t have to walk any of it back. The Obama team is clearly not doing this, and since the scandal broke – almost entirely as a result of the investigation by House Republicans – the Department of Justice, the Department of Energy and as of last week the Department of the Treasury have all made very public moves to look into Solyndra.
Justice and Treasury at least have a lengthy pedigree. But the plain fact is that these are all executive branch departments answerable to the president, and the issue at the heart of Solyndra is the executive branch’s apparent dereliction in its stewardship of public funds approved by Congress.
Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and CFO W.G. “Bill” Stover are scheduled to testify to the House Wednesday, and the Democrats appear to be backing into a strategy of vilifying the company (previous efforts to blame perfidious China and wish the story into a cornfield having failed). It’s tempting to revile these executives, whose lobbying efforts were unseemly even by Washington standards and who might have milked the taxpayers for an additional $469 million had the investigation by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) not shed light on the company’s dire finances.
But it is highly suspicious that an administration whose highest officials claim not to have discussed and not to remember Solyndra has so quickly decided to start a wide criminal probe against the company.
It’s also unnecessary. All the important news about the Solyndra episode has originated with the House investigation. Congressional oversight power is working well in this case, and the open nature of a legislative investigation creates a better forum for discussing the folly of corporate subsidies more generally and the campaign for “green jobs” that is turning out to be as empty as Van Jones’ soul. That Solyndra came to light at all is another example of the virtues of divided government and another reason to suspect any efforts to help by an administration that has its hands full spinning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ “Fast and Furious” scandal.
The fact that bad news makes the news networks does not automatically create a law enforcement interest. And the Obama Administration has squandered any presumption of good faith in its handling of this matter. For both of these reasons, the executive branch should butt out and focus its energies on providing accurate responses to the House inquiry.