On Friday, Solyndra execs Brian Harrison and Bill Stover invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. They refused to answer questions at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which is investigating a $528 million federal loan guarantee that the Obama administration granted to their solar manufacturing company in 2009. On Aug. 31, the company filed for bankruptcy and laid off most of its 1,100 workers. A week later, the FBI raided the company's Fremont, Calif., headquarters and Harrison's home.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., the chairman of the subcommittee, said the hearing wanted to discern, "What did they know (about their financial situation), and when did they know it?"
Though some committee members urged the two suits to ignore their lawyers' advice and answer questions -- one Republican even suggested that their failure to talk suggested guilt -- I thought the execs did the smart thing. Harrison and Stover have nothing to gain by talking, because there's no good way to explain how they blew close to a half-billion in taxpayer money.
Besides, they didn't need to talk when committee Democrats were so willing to toss around a few mitigating factors, such as:
--Excuse No. 1: New technology startups, by definition, are risky ventures.
Problem: Solyndra engaged in profligate behavior. A Washington Post story describes the spending spree that followed the Department of Energy loan guarantee -- new factory, state-of-the-art conference room, lobbying bills that grew from $160,000 in 2008 to $550,000 last year. Within a week of winning the first loan guarantee, Solyndra went back to the Department of Energy for another $400 million (which never was approved).
--Excuse No. 2: Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., claimed that both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations "supported Solyndra's loan guarantee application."
Problem: In its final month, the Bush Department of Energy credit committee voted against a loan guarantee for Solyndra.
It was the Obama White House that pushed for early conditional approval of a Solyndra deal, despite an Office of Management and Budget staffer's warning that "this deal is not ready for prime time." Also, the Obama White House embraced Solyndra with unprecedented support so that the company, which never had turned a profit, had a U.S. president, vice president and energy secretary at its high-publicity events.
--Excuse No. 3: Private investors sank $1 billion into Solyndra, more than taxpayers. They must have had good reason.