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Former Obama aide predicted Solyndra scandal — and urged Chu's ouster

Clean energy activist considered Energy chief 'too associated' with Silicon Valley business elite

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Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu during a news conference.

Julie Jacobson/AP

New internal White House emails reveal that a scathing critique of Energy Secretary Steven Chu by a former Obama political advisor was widely circulated at the highest levels of the administration.

The Feb. 25, 2011 email that sparked the deliberations landed on West Wing desks just as the solar energy firm Solyndra was starting to show outward signs of financial trouble. It was sent by Dan Carol, a former Obama campaign staffer and clean energy advocate who was described by Obama's then-Chief of Staff Pete Rouse as someone whose views "reflect the President's general philosophy on energy policy."

Carol's four-page proposal to restructure the Energy Department included the blunt recommendation that Chu be fired, and that his leadership team also be replaced, calling it time for "serious changes, even if they are uncomfortable to make."

"I would respectfully suggest that the president be strongly encouraged to make major leadership changes as soon as possible," Carol wrote.

Carol also predicted the political fallout that would result from what he saw as inevitable failures of the Energy Department's now-embattled loan guarantee program. He made the dire predictions when advising that Obama replace Chu with someone who was not "too associated … with [the] Silicon Valley business elite."

"Not because they aren't talented," Carol writes, "but because that appointment will be caught up in the wave of GOP attacks that are surely coming over Solyndra and other inside DOE deals that have gone to Obama donors and have underperformed. No reason to fuel that coming storm, and believe me it will come."

The Carol email and the internal deliberations that it spawned became public late last week along with 135 pages of other internal documents that the White House sent to Congress. The document dump was the latest attempt by the Obama administration to respond -- on its own terms -- to a subpoena for all materials that reference the Solyndra loan in any way. Chu is scheduled to testify before a House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee about the Solyndra loan this week. 

White House officials said the emails received by Congress further prove that politics never entered into the decision to loan money to Solyndra.

As Carol predicted, Solyndra's spiral into bankruptcy has led to a political fracas, with Republicans openly questioning whether the decision to send half a billion dollars to the California solar panel manufacturer was motivated by politics. A leading investor in the company was also a major Obama political fundraiser, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser. As recently as this week, Kaiser has reiterated that he made no effort to influence the loan decision making, and the White House has echoed Kaiser's stance.

The new documents offer only a tiny glimpse into the reaction that Carol's email produced inside the West Wing. Numerous senior administration officials were forwarded copies of the Carol proposal and asked by Rouse to comment and respond. Rouse himself wrote on March 14 that he was "not that interested in Dan's criticism of Sec. Chu," but invites other senior officials to weigh in on "Dan's general assessment of the need for greater focus on our energy policy agenda."

"Dan is a clean energy activist who has a clear point of view and is pushing his particular agenda," Rouse writes. "Nonetheless, he is smart and reflects the President's general philosophy on energy policy." Carol is described in internet profiles as an "evangelist for new ideas and approaches to galvanize and build the Green New Deal, working with green businesses, foundations, governments and non-profits." He served as the Content & Issues Director for the Obama for President Campaign.

Administration officials said they continue to try to negotiate with Congress over the terms of the House subpoena for documents about the Solyndra loan. Officials said Friday that, in addition to the new emails forwarded to the Hill, the administration has also agreed to share additional documents "in camera," so as to allow members of Congress to see more if its internal deliberations on Solyndra without making the documents available to the public.

The White House release is the latest move in a long-running tug of war with House Republicans over Solyndra documents. White House officials said they have bent over backwards to provide relevant materials -- those that aim to resolve whether politics entered into the discussions of the Solyndra loans. But House Republicans have argued that they are endowed with investigative power, and have every right to determine which documents are relevant after reviewing all of the materials they have requested.

Last Thursday, the White House failed to comply with a noon deadline set by Congressional investigators to produce all communications related to Solyndra. Last week, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said that the vote by the House and Energy Committee's investigative subcommittee to subpoena all White House records on Solyndra, including emails, documents and memos, "was driven more by partisan politics than a legitimate effort to conduct a responsible investigation."