House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton had been quietly investigating a loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar panel company Solyndra since February, reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents and carefully plotting the rollout of some of the more damaging revelations.
But when the headlines started hitting in late summer, the Michigan Republican soon had company.
On Sept. 19, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent a letter to a top lawyer for President Barack Obama requesting internal White House communications about Solyndra all the way back to the first day of the administration.
“[T]he Committee respectfully requests that you provide ... [a]ll documents and communications between and among personnel in the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including, but not limited to, the White House Office, and personnel at OMB, DOE, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), relating to the approval of the Solyndra loan guarantee,” the letter said, going on to request a similar set of documents on a series of related topics.
A little more than two weeks later, on Oct. 5, Upton and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent their own letter requesting essentially the same thing.
“We ask that you provide ... [a]ll communications among White House staff and officials relating to the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra by the Department of Energy between January 20, 2009 and the present,” the letter said.
The request, a logical next step in their investigation, was expected from Upton and Stearns.
But Democrats close to the Obama administration were surprised that Issa had jumped into the fray a full seven months after Upton and Stearns started investigating.
“Issa hadn’t cared at all about Solyndra until it started raining headlines, and then suddenly it troubled him deeply,” said one Democrat familiar with the investigation.
Two sources off Capitol Hill say the incident has caused friction between Upton and Issa, and insiders call the duplicative requests unusual.
“It has caused some significant tension between the committees,” said a lawyer familiar with both panels. “Energy and Commerce is doing a great job on this investigation. Issa’s been doing a great job on Fast and Furious. You don’t need two committees working on the same investigation.”
Don Goldberg, a partner at Bluetext and a former member of President Bill Clinton’s crisis management team, said that on an investigation as high-profile as Solyndra, it is “highly unusual” for the two committees to have submitted a request for the same documents.
“It shows that they’re not really coordinating or communicating,” Goldberg said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.