Ex-Obama Operative Urged White House to Oust Energy Secretary Chu, Emails Show

Nov. 29, 2010: Energy Secretary Steven Chu gives a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

Nov. 29, 2010: Energy Secretary Steven Chu gives a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.  (AP2010)

The latest Solyndra document dump shows doubts were aired earlier this year about Energy Secretary Steven Chu's ability to foster job creation, offering Republicans a ready opening for criticism as Chu prepares to testify on the loan scandal next week. 

A February email from an ex-campaign operative for President Obama explained at length why Chu should be demoted and replaced with a new team of energy leaders. Dan Carol, also a prominent clean-energy activist, complained about rising gas prices and said department resources were not being put to good use. "These job creation bean fields are not being watered right now," he said. 

Carol described Chu, a Nobel Prize winner, as "wonderful and brilliant," but not the "perfect" fit for the role he's in. 

He suggested making Chu "chief scientist" at the department, while bringing in somebody else as secretary. At the time, he also warned that Solyndra's finances would be a looming storm of controversy for the department. 

"Believe me it will come," Carol wrote. 

The emails were released late Friday by the administration in response to a subpoena by House Republicans, who are investigating a $528 million federal loan received by Solyndra Inc. of Fremont, Calif. The firm later went bankrupt and laid off its 1,100 workers. 

Chu is set to testify before the House energy panel on Thursday. 

A White House spokesman said Friday the plan to oust Chu was not taken very seriously. 

Dan Leistikow, a spokesman for Chu, called Carol "an activist with an agenda" and said his email was not solicited by the White House. His suggestion about Chu was not taken seriously, Leistikow said. 

The Feb. 25 email was circulated by then-Chief of Staff Peter Rouse and seen by at least 18 White House officials, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and then-energy adviser Carol Browner. 

Another set of suggestions from Carol warned that Chu and his team were "scaring away the talent we need." Carol said the new team "must have a Republican to succeed." 

Rouse, in a March 14 email to Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, passed along Carol's proposal, saying he was "not that interested in Dan's criticism of Secretary Chu." 

Still, he said Carol was smart and shared the president's views on energy policy. Rouse asked White House officials to comment on Carol's analysis of the administration's energy policy. Carol worked as Obama's research director in the 2008 campaign. 

The original memo also said the energy secretary should be "comfortable meeting with bankers," adding that the bookish Chu is not comfortable doing that. Carol also recommended an overhaul of Energy Department staff, including Chu's deputy, the department's chief of staff and its undersecretary. 

Carol acknowledged that Obama was unlikely to replace Chu, "out of personal affection or perhaps concern of perceived public perception of failure." 

Even if Chu were not reassigned, Carol added, the Energy Department should redirect its efforts on the $38 billion loan guarantee program and other spending. "There is a still A LOT of money over there that could be repurposed to better uses," he wrote. 

Carol suggested Navy Secretary Ray Mabus as a replacement for Chu, adding that the new secretary should not come from Silicon Valley. Such an appointment "will get caught up in the wave of GOP attacks that are surely coming over Solyndra and other inside DOE deals that have gone to Obama donors and have underperformed," Carol wrote. 

Solyndra's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama and a rallying cry for GOP critics of his green energy program. 

The Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee has subpoenaed White House communications on Solyndra and has released thousands of pages of emails related to the company. 

The White House on Friday rejected the GOP subpoena, calling it overly broad. Instead officials provided 135 pages of documents that administration officials said meet the "legitimate oversight interests" of congressional investigators. 

In a letter to top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Friday, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said the documents "do not contain evidence of favoritism to political supporters or any wrongdoing by the White House in connection with the Solyndra loan guarantee." GOP lawmakers have said the loan to Solyndra appears politically motivated, and that major Obama donors received unusual access to the White House. 

GOP Reps. Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns, who lead the energy committee and a subcommittee on investigations, respectively, said in a statement Friday that they appreciated the White House response to the subpoena. 

"We're hoping this is the beginning of an effort to finally make public these missing pieces of a process that left us all holding the bag for over 500 million dollars," said Upton, of Michigan, and Stearns, of Florida. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.