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President Barack Obama's top lawyer balked today at subpoenas related to Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar panel company given a loan guarantee and under investigation by the FBI and Congress, telling House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton that his request for documents is "unprecedented and unnecessary."
White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler called the Michigan Republican's subpoenas a "significant intrusion" into the executive branch. She suggested in a letter to Upton and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) that the probe is too broad and seems "driven more by partisan politics than a legitimate effort to conduct a responsible investigation."
Upton, in two subpoenas issued Thursday, demanded "all documents referring or relating in any way to the $535 million loan guarantee issued to Solyndra." Ruemmler urged Upton to negotiate the scope of the two subpoenas, taking a strident tone but not refusing outright to comply.
"Given the breadth of the subpoena, I hope the Committee's public statement that it intends to negotiate the scope of any document production is sincere," Ruemmler wrote, using as an example that "thousands of pages of news clips" would be technically responsive to the subpoena but likely of no interest to Upton.
Ruemmler said the White House and administration have been extremely responsive to Upton's requests and that he should review documents currently being provided first before continuing his investigation into White House deliberations. The documents now being produced cover communications between the White House and three federal agencies that had a role in the decision to issue a loan guarantee to Solyndra.
"We suggested that the Committee focus first on communications between the White House and those agencies directly involved in the Solyndra loan guarantee. Those communications, which the agencies have been producing for weeks now, are the bests evidence of any White House involvement in decision-making on the Solyndra loan guarantee," Ruemmler wrote.
Upton said he was "disappointed" with the response and blasted the president for putting up "partisan roadblocks to hide the truth from taxpayers."
The war of words marks a hardening of the conflict between Upton and the White House over the documents as Upton moves to review internal deliberations between top advisers to the president. Upton said the White House already had its chance to negotiate.
"The White House could have avoided the need for subpoena authorizations if they had simply chosen to cooperate," Upton said in a statement, citing two previous documents requests that Ruemmler rebuffed. "That would have been the route we preferred, and frankly, it would have been better for the White House to get the information out now, rather than continue to drag this out."
He said the request is "reasonable."
"We are not demanding the president's BlackBerry messages as we are respectful of Executive Privilege. What is the West Wing trying to hide?" Upton said.
According to a letter from top Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Ruemmler had proposed in talks to narrow the request to subject-based criteria: the influence of campaign contributions on the decision whether to issue the loan guarantee and the involvement of White House officials in the decision by the Energy Department to issue and restructure the loan guarantee.
The press release with Upton's statement referenced the first subpoena issued for documents relating to Solyndra to the White House Office of Management and Budget, saying that negotiations over a request for those documents ultimately collapsed.
"After several weeks, it became apparent that the promises to negotiate in good faith were a stalling tactic, forcing the committee to issue the subpoena to OMB. In the nearly four months since that subpoena was issued, the committee still has yet to receive all of the responsive documents from OMB," Upton said.
An Upton spokesman said discussions over the internal White House documents also seem to be a stalling tactic.