Members of Congress investigating the $535 million loan guarantee that the Obama administration gave to now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra are considering suing the White House to obtain access to documents relating to the case, Fox News has learned.
For close to a year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has been probing the circumstances surrounding the loan and its subsequent restructuring, which subordinated taxpayers to private investors in the recovery of the company's assets. Solyndra's chief investor, billionaire George Kaiser, is a prominent Obama supporter whom records show visited the White House 17 times.
The White House and the Energy Committee have clashed repeatedly over access to documents and witnesses. A White House spokesman notes the administration has already turned over 185,000 documents to the committee, and that Argonaut Ventures, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based private equity firm Kaiser founded, has also produced a large volume of documents. Earlier this month, the committee subpoenaed the White House for more documents, but the administration did not comply fully, citing what it deemed the excessive scope of the request.
The committee has also been stymied in its attempts to secure interviews with some personnel from the Energy Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget, particularly those bureaucrats who raised red flags early on about Solyndra's shaky finances.
Sources told Fox News an official from the White House counsel's office was to confer with committee investigators by telephone on Friday, but that no agreement on the outstanding documents and interviewees was expected.
For that reason, lawmakers on the panel are considering holding hearings -- first at the subcommittee level, then for the full committee -- to vote on a contempt citation against the White House. Experts said that if such an event were to come to pass, the full House, which is controlled by the Republicans, would have to vote on the citation. If that in turn were to happen, the House would officially refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for enforcement against the White House.
However, since the U.S. attorney for the capital, Ronald C. Machen Jr., is an Obama political appointee, committee Republicans are not optimistic that he would vigorously pursue a contempt citation against the White House.
In that event, committee staffers have explored the prospect of filing a civil lawsuit against William Daley and Bruce Reed, the respective chiefs of staff for the president and Vice President Biden.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told Fox News the administration is reviewing the most recent requests from the committee but suggested the panel's investigation is a waste of time and taxpayer money.
"We are entering month ten of this investigation and everything disclosed in the 185,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, five Congressional hearings, emails from Solyndra investors, and Committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms what we said on day one," said Schultz in an emailed statement. "This was a merit based decision made by the Department of Energy. We only wish that some of the Committee's zeal to investigate was replicated in efforts to create jobs or grow the economy."
Schultz pointed out that various news organizations and good-government advocacy groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, have reached the same conclusion about the merits of the original loan guarantee.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy committee, was quoted Thursday suggesting that the contempt citation route may not be necessary. "I expect (the White House) to respond," Upton reportedly told Politico.
President Obama personally toured Solyndra in May 2010, even as administration officials privately questioned the firm's financial stability and the wisdom of allowing Obama to proceed with the high-profile event.
This past September, shortly after Solyndra declared bankruptcy, FBI agents raided the firm's offices, and a parallel investigation by the Department of Justice, looking into whether the firm misled the government in loan applications and other federal filings, is also ongoing.
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole."