A House panel voted Thursday to subpoena internal White House documents relating to the bankrupt Solyndra company, setting stage for a political showdown that could force President Obama to invoke "executive privilege" to prevent turning over the material to Congress.
The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, voted 14-9 along party lines to approve the subpoena, the merits of which were debated for over an hour. After attempts by Democrats on the committee to delay the vote, the subpoena was approved.
House Republicans accused the White House of "stalling tactics" for refusing to turn over internal White House emails -- including those sent from the president's BlackBerry -- that they believe will show the Department of Energy loan to Solyndra was influenced by political favoritism. One of the firm's lead investors, George Kaiser, was a major political donor to the president and the firm, which went bankrupt last September, is now the subject of an FBI probe.
"We have seen a half a billion dollars of taxpayer money out the door. It's time we get to the bottom of his whole mess," said Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman of the energy and commerce committee.
Democrats on the panel derided the GOP move as a "fishing expedition," especially since it came just hours after the White House turned over another 20,000 pages of Energy Department documents -- including emails with White House officials -- on Tuesday night.
According to Upton's office, the two ranking members on the committee from both parties attended a meeting at the White House Wednesday with White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, but they "failed to produce internal White House documents related to Solyndra or answer basic questions about the documents."
White House spokemsan Eric Schultz said in an email after the votel: "The White House has been clear with the Committee that we are willing to cooperate with legitimate oversight requests that are tailored to balance the important institutional interests of both branches. We are disappointed that the Committee has refused to discuss their requests with us in good faith, and has instead chosen a partisan route, proceeding with subpoenas that are unprecedented and unwarranted."
Talking about the new documents turned over the committee Tuesday night, a White House official said: "This could have been a botched loan, but there's nothing to suggest anything untoward happened here," emphasizing the approval for the Solyndra loan was made by career officials at the Department of Energy.
Still, there were signs that the political stakes over Solyndra were intensifying for the White House. An assertion of executive privilege -- already hinted at by Ruemmler -- would force the president to invoke a claim he had criticized President Bush for repeatedly using.
Meanwhile, a conservative advocacy group, the Americans for Prosperity -- funded by the Koch brothers, owners of a major oil company -- began running political attack ads this week blasting what it calls "Obama's Green Giveaway," featuring a clip of the president touting the loan, saying "the true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra." It then contrasts that statement with headlines about Solyndra's bankruptcy, the FBI probe and reports about the firm's politically connected investors.
Also fueling the Solyndra story this week: New filings in the firm's bankruptcy case showing that, even while the federally backed firm was collapsing last spring and summer, more than a dozen senior exeuctives were collecting hefty bonuses. For example, the firm's vice president of marketing-- whose salary was $275,000-- was awarded two bonuses of $55,000 a piece in April and again in July, the second one coming just two months before Solyndra filed for bankruptcy. The firm's executive vice president of operations, who had a salary of $300,000, was awarded bonuses of $60,000 in April and again in July.
Updated at 12:07 p.m.