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Romney at Solyndra: Anatomy of a secret press conference

NBC's Garrett Haake

Mitt Romney (R) on the campaign press bus heading to the former site of the company Solyndra.

 

UPDATED AT 3 PM ET

FREMONT, CA -- When Mitt Romney arrived at the gates of the bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra this afternoon, he didn't do it before cheering supporters or backed by a large coterie of staff.

He pulled up on the press bus with the rest of his traveling media contingent.

Romney's staff, fearful, they said, of being blocked by the administration from holding an event here, kept the location of today's press conference secret, even from the press who cover the candidate.

On Wednesday, reporters who cover the candidate were told to get themselves from Las Vegas to San Francisco for an "event" in the bay area on Thursday. No other details were given, except to be ready at a hotel parking lot early this morning.

Professionally curious, the Romney press corps set about cracking the secret code of the event and breaking the story.

"I've got nothing for ya," one aide told NBC.

"Sorry, can't help you," replied another Romney staffer via email, complete with a frowny face emoticon.

And so it was this morning, when 31 members of the national and local press boarded a bus in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express, armed only with educated guesses – no reportable confirmation – that Romney was headed to Solyndra.

Message discipline, and an inner circle that sees leaks as treasonous, won this round.

The secrecy, one top aide explained, was to prevent the Obama administration blocking the event from taking place. The aide did not explain how that might happen.

The aide also said the campaign did not fear protesters disrupting the event, as pro-Romney protesters and staff did to Obama senior adviser David Axelrod this morning at an event on the steps of the statehouse in Boston.

Then, Romney boarded the bus.

Beyond a cursory wave and good morning, he didn't chat with the press, but rode in relative silence with a small group of aides and a few Secret Service agents surrounding him in the front of the bus.

Romney was asked why the event -- which ultimately lasted only about 10 minutes on a Nimitz Highway median -- was kept so secret. He offered a somewhat conspiratorial answer.

"I think there are people who don’t want to see this event occur, don’t want to have questions asked about this particular investment, don’t want to have people delve into the idea that the president took a half-a-billion dollars of taxpayer money and devoted it to an enterprise that was owned in large measure by his campaign contributors," Romney said.

This is the former Massachusetts governor's first trip to Solyndra, but he regularly highlights its failing, despite support from governmental loans, in his stump speeches and fundraisers.