White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was unable today to say why OMB staffers, in several emails released to the public, reported that they felt rushed and pressured by West Wing officials to reach a decision on the half billion in loan guarantees to Solyndra.
The solar panel maker went belly up and taxpayers on the hook for the money. The Department of Energy had already approved the loan guarantees, and it was OMB’s job to decide whether this was a safe investment for taxpayers.
Here are a couple of emails, as related in a Washington Post story Thursday.
One e-mail from an OMB official referred to “the time pressure we are under to sign-off on Solyndra.” Another complained, “There isn’t time to negotiate.”
“We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions (and we are worried about Solyndra at the end of the week),” one official wrote. That Aug. 31, 2009, message, written by a senior OMB staffer and sent to Terrell P. McSweeny, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, concluded, “We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews . . . ”
In one e-mail, an OMB staff member questioned whether the review team was using the best model for determining the financial risk to taxpayers in evaluating the Solyndra deal.
“Given the time pressure we are under to sign-off on Solyndra, we don’t have time to change the model,” the staffer wrote.
Here’s an exchange I had with Carney today during an off camera “gaggle” held at the White House
KOFFLER: Jay, you’ve said that the White House was merely interested in OMB and the timing of when they would get this thing done. Can you explain why, in several of the emails, OMB staffers are indicating that they feel that they are being rushed?
CARNEY: Again, I think that there was an interest in, we need a decision, one way or the other, so that we can decide whether or not — so we can know whether or not we’re going to schedule an event. That is — there is just no evidence, as — and again, this is all based on stuff that this administration has provided to a committee in Congress that then leaks it to you guys — but this is part of a process where we’re following the rules.
There is no evidence in anything you’ve seen that suggests otherwise.
KOFFLER: But there is — the OMB staffers themselves —
CARNEY: We were saying that we need a decision. If the decision is no, okay. If the decision is yes, okay. But we need a decision.
KOFFLER: So did you indeed rush them then if you’re saying you need a decision?
MR. CARNEY: No. No.
KOFFLER: Can we get — why did they — they said —
CARNEY: The focus was on, can we schedule this event?
KOFFLER: Several different ones said they were rushed.
CARNEY: You can write it the way you want it. Write it based on the evidence.
KOFFLER: I’m just quoting —
CARNEY: And I’m saying that the focus was on — as is clear in the emails — we need to know if we’re going to have this event or not.
At this point he walked out of the briefing room, having said before calling on me that mine would be the last question of the morning.
I’m not being any kind of genius here – I can’t believe no one else pursued this line of questioning with Jay before.
The most benign explanation is that West Wing staffers asked OMB officials so many times for a determination that the pressure became clear. If your boss asks you five times, “How’s that memo you’re supposed to write coming along,” than it’s pretty clear you are being pressured to finish fast.
The most likely scenario, given how clear the OMB officials are about their perceived deadline, is that someone got on the phone and said, “I don’t care about you’re wonky crap, we need this by Friday.”
It’s got to be either of these two possibilities. But I’m not ruling out completely, though, that it wasn’t Apollo, God of the Sun, who emailed OMB.
When $535 million in taxpayer money is at stake, rushing due – diligence directly or indirectly – is a scandal. If top White House officials don’t know, they should be trying to find out who within the West Wing pressured these people.