The Republican led House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning increased the pressure on the White House to come clean on the Solyndra controversy as it voted to subpoena the executive branch in search of loan records.
“The committee doesn’t take this action lightly. We can’t let the executive branch pick and choose what documents it will produce,” said committee chairman Cliff Stearns. “If the White House has nothing to hide, it should produce the documents.”
Two subpoenas will be issued.
Not every member agreed, pointing out the House Energy and Commerce Committee had never tried such a thing in its past.
“[A subpoena] should be a last resort” objected Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman.
Subpoenas are rare, but not unheard of. During the Bush administration, the then Democratic led Congress issued dozens of subpoenas to Condoleezza Rice and Karl Rove over records regarding the Iraq War.
Refusing a Congressional subpoena can result in a charge of contempt of Congress, a crime that in theory could lead to a punishment of 12 years in jail. No one has ever been convicted of such a charge.
When faced with Congressional subpoenas, previous administrations from both parties have claimed “executive privilege," refusing to turn over documents.
Executive privilege is the legal theory that a president should be able to speak or write frankly with advisors without the worry of those conversations or documents becoming public.
The House committee acknowledged executive privilege is a legitimate legal maneuver, but said it “could not imagine” a discussion of solar energy loans would fall under such restrictions.
On Wednesday, the Department of Energy voluntarily released more than one thousand new documents in the case.
The latest documents show some Solyndra executives took bonuses even as the solar company teetered towards bankruptcy. The White House, Justice Department and Energy Department have provided more than 80,000 documents over the past few weeks.
The collapse and bankruptcy of the Bay Area-based company once touted by President Barack Obama ultimately left taxpayers on the hook for $528 million.