House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) issued a stark warning to those involved in the emerging Solyndra scandal after executives for the bankrupt solar energy company invoked their Fifth Amendment rights 20 times at a hearing this morning.
"It is a very sad commentary that we met resistance every step of the way of seeking answers to basic questions overseeing the approval process of this project," Upton said. "Let me just warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer ripoff. We're not done. No we're not."
Throughout the hearing, Republicans repeated their assertions that the Solyndra loan was rushed out the door for political purposes and never received proper vetting. Afterward, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who has been leading a seven-month-long inquiry into Solyndra, said he wants to talk with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the half-billion-dollar loan guarantee that was awarded to the company through a controversial Department of Energy program.
Stearns -- who last week called for the firing of the DOE official in charge of the loan guarantee program -- said the committee also continues to wait for the Obama administration to provide additional documents regarding the role of White House officials in the Solyndra deal.
"We've got a large number of witnesses that we want to interview on the staff level, and then, based on what the staff says, we'll decide whether they need to come before the subcommittee," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the committee's chairman emeritus.
For their part, committee Democrats expressed disappointment that the Solyndra executives declined to answer questions and agreed that the investigation into what happened with the company should continue. But Democrats also condemned Republicans for exploiting the Solyndra case for political purposes.
"Republicans in Congress are now dancing on Solyndra's grave," ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said.
Waxman pointed out that after failing to do so on Wednesday, GOP leaders were only able to pass a stopgap funding measure on the House floor last night by luring wayward Republicans back to the bill with a $100 million cut to the DOE program that provided Solyndra's loan. That cut was on top of $1.5 billion that would be slashed from DOE's clean-car loan program.
"That's not an economic plan for the future," Waxman said. "It's a job-destroying strategy that keeps us tied to a fossil fuel past."
But Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) appeared to take pride in the effort to include the Solyndra provision in the continuing resolution.
"Hell yes, we took that money back," Burgess said. "If the DOE is going to continue to be chumps, we should at least try to corral what they are doing."
'You lied to me'
Through this morning's nearly 90-minute hearing, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover sat stone-faced at the witness table as Upton and other Republicans sought to reason with, shame and provoke the two men into providing answers to questions about the downfall of the company and the DOE loan.
"We have our own modern-day great train robbery," Upton said in his opening statement.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) called the Solyndra deal "an airtight scheme that trumps the Bernie Madoff scheme."
And referring to Harrison's Capitol Hill visit last July, in which he visited lawmakers to assure them the company was on strong financial footing, Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) said, "You lied to me."
Harrison's return to Capitol Hill today was certainly much different. About five minutes before the hearing was to begin, he emerged from a Rayburn House Office Building elevator with Stover, their lawyers and a several uniformed Capitol Police officers and walked down a long hallway in the glare of a row of television cameras.
Neither man acknowledged the press gaggle that had gathered outside or inside the hearing room, even as Stearns let the men wait at the witness table for several minutes before gaveling the committee to order a little past 9 a.m.
While Republicans used their allotted time to lob 20 questions at Harrison and Stover, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Calif.) chose not to pursue a line of questioning after establishing that both men intended to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights.
In his remarks at the end of the hearing, Waxman criticized Republicans for continuing to ask questions after it became clear that neither man planned to answer.
It is "unseemly and inappropriate for members to be asking questions that we know will not be answered," Waxman said. "If they've asserted the Fifth Amendment, there's nothing we can do."
The questions constituted "witness badgering" and were "designed to create catchy sound bites," he said.
But Barton said the questions were appropriate.
"I disagree that it's badgering," he said, "to ask basic questions that the American people want answers to."
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