By Tori Richards and Earl Glynn | Watchdog.org
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and three top GreenTech advisers met with the key White House aide responsible for helping bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra win federal loans and high-profile presidential support, a Watchdog investigation has revealed.
What they discussed in the Oct. 13, 2010, meeting with Obama “green energy” aide Greg Nelson is a mystery – the White House visitors log offers no details. But the confab came seven months after a stock transfer made McAuliffe a GreenTech minority owner and company chairman.
Months before the GreenTech meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., White House officials already knew Solyndra was on the ropes – failing an independent audit and headed toward a predicted default on its federal $535 million loan. Despite warnings from allies and staff, the president visited Solyndra in May 2010, pointing to the company as a model of his new economy.
Whatever happened in the White House meeting apparently wasn’t enough to stave off some misfortune. Eight months later a GreenTech lawyer was emailing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Director Alejandro Mayorkas, begging his agency to fast track approval of lagging visa applications for the company’s foreign investors under the federal EB-5 program.
In addition to Nelson and McAuliffe, the White House meeting included GreenTech finance director Gary Yi Tang, immigration and EB-5 attorney Steve Yale-Loehr and Northwestern University economist Michael K. Evans.
Yale-Loehr was on retainer for Gulf Coast Funds, which raises EB-5 funds for GreenTech. Evans had written a report detailing the impact of locating a GreenTech manufacturing plant in Tunica, Miss. He has also analyzed other projects seeking EB-5 funding.
If the GreenTech group was looking for funding, they wouldn’t have had a better friend in the White House than Nelson. He was responsible for the Obama meet-and-greet
at Solyndra in May. GreenTech didn’t fare as well: a year and a half later it settled for former president Bill Clinton at its grand opening in Mississippi.
Nelson, whose official White House title was deputy director of Public Engagement, was by his own accord “the member of the Public Liaison team charged with reaching out to the environmental community.”
A series of emails obtained by the media show his role in the Solyndra debacle.
In a March 2009 email, Nelson wrote Solyndra’s CEO that his company’s solar panel “looks like a great product, and the (manufacturing plant) plans for Fab 2 are inspiring.”
Within a few days, Solyndra’s $535 million loan was approved by the Obama Energy Department, according to the New York Times.
Nelson then met with Solyndra investor David Prend who had emailed him on March 13, 2009, saying, “In the current economic environment, they could use all the positive publicity they can get.”
Prend replied, “I look forward to working with you to get the message out and to affect real change in the Energy Industry.”
But as Obama was touring the facility a year later, Solyndra was secretly unraveling. A news story detailing its poor financial health ran the following month. In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Nelson dismissed the article as “Seems like B.S.” In communications with Nelson, Solyndra execs put on a brave front, writing, “things are going well…and our plan puts (us) at cash positive later this year.”
“Fantastic to hear that business is doing well keep up the good work! We’re cheering for you,” Nelson replied.
GreenTech’s Solyndra connection won’t surprise Kimberley A. Strassel. Back in April, the Wall Street Journal columnist wrote, “GreenTech is the latest proof (after Solyndra, Fisker, A123 and others) that the political class is adept at hooking up cronies and investors with taxpayer dollars. But creating jobs? No can do.”
Documents released last week reveal that that Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating GreenTech’s sister company Gulf Coast Funds, stating that there’s “possible fraud” in the firm’s pursuit of EB-5 investors, primarily those in China. GreenTech is behind schedule in rolling out thousands of electric vehicles while as many as 81 foreign nationals who invested at least $500,000 each are awaiting visas.
McAuliffe faces a tough battle to become Virginia’s governor, Tang still has his job and Yale-Loehr has been replaced by another attorney on Gulf Coast’s web site.
And Nelson? He was promoted, of course, and is now chief of staff for the White House’s National Economic Council.
Nelson did not respond to detailed a voicemail request for interview. A message was also left at the campaign office of McAuliffe, but no call was returned.
Contact Tori Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @newswriter2.
Updated Aug. 8 to correct meeting date of May 13.
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