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Solyndra Execs to Plead Fifth at House Hearing

Tue, 09/20/2011 - 1:13pm
MATTHEW DALY - Associated Press - Associated Press

Two top executives at a bankrupt California solar energy company say they will invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer questions when they appear at a House hearing on Friday.

Solyndra Inc. Chief Executive Officer Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer W.G. Stover sent letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday informing them of their plans to remain silent. The Associated Press obtained copies of the letters, which cite an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI.

Harrison and Stover said they still plan to appear before the committee, which is investigating a $528 million loan Solyndra received from the Energy Department in 2009.

Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month and laid off its 1,100 employees. The Silicon Valley company was the first renewable-energy company to receive a loan guarantee under a stimulus-law program to encourage green energy and was frequently touted by the Obama administration as a model.

The company's implosion and revelations that the administration hurried Office of Management and Budget officials to finish their review of the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House energy committee said they will step up scrutiny of 14 loan guarantees given preliminary approval by the Energy Department but not yet completed. If approved, the loans total more than $8 billion.

The Energy Department faces a Sept. 30 deadline to complete the loans, and lawmakers said they were concerned that "another rush to meet stimulus deadlines" will result in some loans being completed before they are ready.

"We question whether the DOE needs additional time to conduct its due diligence to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being put at risk unnecessarily," Reps. Fred Upton, Cliff Stearns and Ed Whitfield said in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Upton, of Michigan, chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, while Stearns, of Florida, heads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations. Whitfield, of Kentucky, leads the energy and power subcommittee.

Agents with the FBI and Energy Department's inspector general executed a search warrant at Solyndra' s Fremont, Calif., headquarters on Sept. 8, two days after the company declared bankruptcy.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under seal, said the search was related to a fraud investigation into whether Solyndra filed inaccurate documents with the government.

Federal agents also visited Harrison's home and the homes of two other Solyndra executives.

Harrison's attorney, Walter Brown, and Stover's attorney, Jan Nielsen Little, said in separate letters to the committee that the criminal investigations prompted the decisions to decline to testify under their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Both Harrison and Stover still intend to appear at the hearing, their lawyers said.

Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.

Follow Matthew Daly at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

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