Interview with Representative Cliff Stearns

Interview with Representative Cliff Stearns

By John King, USA - October 28, 2011

JOHN KING: Let's turn now to the Republican leading the subpoena push and the stonewalling charge. Cliff Stearns of Florida is chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

A subpoena to the White House is a pretty serious thing. Your committee's going to meet Thursday. What can the White House do to stop you?

REP. CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: The White House has not claimed executive privilege at this point.

And, John, all we're asking for is the communications of the -- shall we say the internal communications of the top advisers in the White House, which includes the chief of staff, the director of climate change and policy, as well as the senior adviser on intergovernmental affairs.

The e-mails we have, John, show that they were briefed about Solyndra and all we would like to do is see their communications.

KING: What is your question? What is your question? Did political implications, did they have all these warning signs saying don't give this loan and somebody said give it anyway? What's your question?

STEARNS: Well, it appears to us, disturbingly, that there's a close relationship between the investors, the people who are wealthy donors to the Obama campaign, and the people were involved with Solyndra. And so that disturbs us all, and we'd like see the communications to make sure that is not true.

And so all we're asking for is, you know, it's nothing to do with national security, we're just asking for information about Solyndra.

KING: You're the chairman of an important investigative subcommittee. To say it appears to us that you can -- it appears to you that you might be able to connect the dots between political contributions, influence, and a loan that went bad and left the taxpayers holding a pretty big bill, that's an important charge.

Do you have --

STEARNS: It's not a charge.

KING: -- the proof of that now?

STEARNS: It's not a charge, but it's something that we are concerned about, and we want to make sure it's not true. And I think the president should also feel like we do, to show that it's not true. So just turn over all of the documents so we can see them and let the American people understand there's no connection. If there is a connection, obviously, that's a -- that's a very disturbing thing.

KING: Do you want conversations and communications to the president, or do you concede that when it comes to discussing a program, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, I know if they were -- if the situation were flipped would say go away, that's our privilege?

STEARNS: Well, that's not the same thing as this. This is an investment of taxpayers' money that's gone bad. In fact, there's 28 programs, some of them are $1. 2 billion of taxpayers' money that are questionable at this point.

So I think, at this point, after eight months of investigation, we have a right, and I think the taxpayers have a right after losing half a billion dollars, to say what about the internal communications inside the top advisers to the White House, let's see them.

KING: So you have no doubt these subpoenas will be going, you just need to get this committee --

STEARNS: The subpoenas will be going, and I hope the Democrats who voted against the first subpoena for OMB and DOE did not vote for it, I hope they vote for this, because this is really transparency and this is what the president talked about in his campaign in 2008.

KING: Well, the White House says they have looks at what you're asking for.


KING: They think it's overly broad, and they have said here are the documents we think answer your questions. Why don't you believe them?

STEARNS: Well, the e-mails we've gotten so far from them indicate there's much more. And if there is much more, then can we see it. And we've got authenticated proof from some of his inside, top advisers they were involved with Solyndra from other e-mails, so we'd like to see them all.

KING: Their argument, Mr. Chairman, is that this was a bad call. That there was a debate about whether this company was solvent or not, and you're absolutely right that there are some documents saying people saying, whoa, we've got warning signs about the finances of this company, other people say this loan is not ready for prime time, slow down, somebody said no, let's go forward and do it. But they say it's a bad call, not corrupt call.

Why do you think otherwise?

STEARNS: Well, I think, first of all, they broke the law when they subordinated taxpayers' money to these two hedge funds. I would like to understand how that works out because I don't think taxpayers should be supporting --

KING: Who broke the law? Again, that's a pretty --


STEARNS: Department of Energy, by subordinating taxpayers' loan to these two hedge funds, I think they broke the Energy Policy Act of 2005. And it's not just my words, John. The chief financial adviser, Mr. Berner, of the Department of Treasury said in 28 years he has never seen taxpayers subordinated to outside private investor.

So we have here something that's serious. We have lost a lot of money. Perhaps the administration thinks it's just an anomaly in terms of their investment, but I think taxpayers want to know exactly how this happened from stem to stern.

KING: And you have the secretary, Mr. Chu, coming up before your committee, I believe, on November 17.


KING: We invited him on the program many times as we've discussed this issue to try to get some of the answers.

You just said you think the Energy Department broke the law.


KING: Do you think the secretary broke the law?

STEARNS: I think the secretary has to give an adequate explanation why his council went ahead and, shall we say, rewrote their interpretation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

And in all fairness, I'm glad he's coming up to the committee. He has a chance to explain to the American people and our committee what happened. So I welcome him.

But also, he's got to explain, based upon what Mr. Berner, whose the chief financial officer at the Department of Treasury, who actually cuts the check that gives to DOE to give the money out, why, after his experience, why does he think it's OK to do this.

KING: There are a lot of Democrats in town say where was this tough oversight when Republicans ran the town, George W. Bush was president. Why didn't the Republicans have as much oversight in those days? So they see some partisanship behind that. And I think you would concede the point, even a lot of Republicans say there was not enough over sight of the Republican president.

So, when you are saying these things, and you have a legitimate inquiry without a doubt, but when you're saying we might be able to connect the dots to some sort of a political corruption --

STEARNS: What I'm saying is --

KING: -- we think they broke the law --

STEARNS: -- there's a disturbing trend here.

KING: Chairman Issa of the other committee says the attorney general has lied. Others on the committee have said people in the Justice Department in the Fast and Furious program.

Do you worry at all -- do you worry at all as you -- as you go about what I hope is legitimate and tough but fair oversight, that there is an impression being laid that you have -- you're putting the judgment before the evidence when you collect statement by the Republicans involved?

STEARNS: John, I have not called for the resignation of Secretary Chu. Mr. Silver, who is a top loan officer, I called for his resignation at DOE, Department of Energy, and he did resign. And I think, also, the CEO of Solyndra resigned after taking the Fifth in front of me. So let's see what Secretary Chu has to say. Let's give him a fair opportunity to talk.

But also, John, we have been very systemic here. This is an it's eight-month investigation. We are not jumping off the cliff here. And we have continually sought these documents and tried to be reasonable, and sometimes they didn't even show up for a -- as a witness. They'd say they were going to be there and didn't even show up.

KING: What happens now if they get your subpoenas, which is a pretty grave step, and they say no, or they give you some documents but not what you're looking for?

STEARNS: Well, obviously, they could claim executive privilege, and I respect that, that's part of the Constitution. We will the next step after that if we thought it was that serious.

But I don't think the president wants to go there because this is something very simple to answer. Did his top as advises get involved, get briefed on Solyndra, and what was their response? And why didn't they step out and say, hold it, hold it, we're not going to make this investment and lose all of this money? And is this happening on other 28 loan guarantees? I mean, that's a legitimate question. If it happened in Solyndra, it might happen in other ones.

KING: You're the chairman of the subcommittee, you have attorneys working for you. Have there been any private conversations to try to settle this, to figure out what they -- what both sides could agree was an acceptable compromise?

STEARNS: Sure. We have tried. We've called. I think, at this point, the president feels, you know, concern that he just doesn't want to do it because he's opening up Pandora's box and he doesn't know what's in the box. And I understand that. I understand how he's being cautious here.

But on the other hand, this is a loss of half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money, and we have seen from e-mails that a lot of wealthy bundlers and wealthy donors have been involved. In fact, they're investors in Solyndra and they're investor in all of the other 28.

So I think it's good to take Solyndra, which was a poster child that the vice president and the president just touted, why don't we look at this carefully, slowly, methodically -- it's what we're doing -- and try and to get these answers.

KING: And so subpoenas in the coming days.

Chairman Stearns, appreciate your time, and we'll stay on top of the story. We'll see how they react.

STEARNS: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you for your time. 

John King, USA

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