The reviews of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s House testimony are still rolling in, and it’s looking like consensus is being manufactured: Not since Ollie North won America's hearts with his ramrod testimony on some Iran-Contra stuff that nobody cared about has a presidential henchman turned bilge water into such toothsome eau de toilette.
Reuters says Chu is “unlikely to take the fall for taxpayer losses on a $535 million loan guarantee to the failed solar company [Solyndra].”
Talking Points Memo is more effusive about Chu’s testimony on Solyndra, a maker of novelty solar panels heavily promoted and partially owned by cronies of President Obama. “In a spectacular case of instant karma,” writes TPM tech reporter Carl Franzen, “House Republicans’ plan to roast Chu….appears to have backfired. Chu seems reinvigorated in his effort to make the U.S. into global clean energy leader….while Republicans seem at odds with their own message.”
With prose like that you can see why Franzen’s novel The Corrections was a bestseller and critical favorite. But if you hung around (as I did) past the second hour, you know Chu’s performance only “shines” in comparison to those of other Solyndra witnesses: Jonathan Silver, administrator of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, left to pursue other interests. Deputy assistant Treasury Secretary for fiscal operations Gary Grippo and Federal Financing Bank CFO Gary Burner looked like Mutt and Jeff while spilling details on the still-unexplained 2011 restructuring of Solyndra’s loan. Solyndra executives Brian Harrison and W.G. “Bill” Stover invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In that context, Chu’s testimony was a success. House Republicans did not trip him up on anything overtly criminal, though they still have plenty of open questions. And Chu did not tell an immediately provable lie until after he was dismissed by Congress, in response to a question from the Examiner’s Phil Klein.
I reiterate that Solyndra is primarily a bureaucratic rather than a criminal scandal. There may have been crimes committed, but the most fruitful line of inquiry has consistently been standard congressional oversight of executive branch management that can most charitably described as incompetent.