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Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the DOE’s former general counsel. In-house counsel at various government entities, up to and including the White House, are coming under increasing scrutiny by a House panel looking into the ill-fated federal loan provided to Solyndra, Inc., the Fremont, California, solar energy company that failed very publicly last month. In the latest plot twist of this political thriller, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee want to know why White House counsel Susan Ruemmler refuses to release documents that possibly tie President Obama or his advisers to the loan decision made at the Department of Energy. Solyndra’s top executives were strong Obama supporters and campaign contributors. In refusing the committee’s most recent request, Ruemmler wrote on October 14: There is nothing in the documents produced so far by DOE, the Office of Management and Budget, Treasury, or the White House to suggest “that the White House intervened in the Solyndra loan guarantee to benefit a campaign contributor.” On Monday, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) released a statement asking: “What is the White House trying to hide? . . . The public has a right to know of the role the West Wing played in the Solyndra mess, and whether they brought influence to bear on the loan’s initial review and ill-advised restructuring.” The committee is looking into why DOE restructured its $528 million loan to the financially shaky Solyndra earlier this year. It also wants to know if the department violated the law by allowing its interests to be subordinated to private investors when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on September 6 and laid off its 1,100 employees. Two days after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy, agents with the FBI and the Energy Department’s inspector general served a search warrant at the company’s Golden State headquarters. Their inquiry reportedly focuses on whether the company misled the government in applying for the original loan and the restructuring. Solyndra blamed its failure on a low demand for its products and intense competition from Chinese companies that drove down the price of its solar panels. Investigators for the House committee are expected to question DOE’s then-GC Scott Harris, as well as his legal staff over two versions of a February memo explaining the loan. One version went from the GC to Energy Secretary Steven Chu; the second version went from the GC to Susan Richardson, chief counsel in the loan program office, who may also be questioned. The probers are also interested in a lawyer (whose name has been blacked out in publicly released documents) at the Treasury Department who, in an email to assistant Treasury secretary Mary Miller, expressed doubts about the legality of subordinating the loan. Solyndra general counsel John Gaffney didn’t return messages seeking comment. Gaffney joined the company in February 2010. At an earlier hearing, Solyndra chief executive Brian Harrison and chief financial officer Bill Stover both invoked their Fifth Amendment right to decline to testify to avoid self-incrimination. They said they did so on advice of counsel. The House panel is expected to schedule another hearing in early November to continue its probe.

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