While the peasants were revolting on Wall Street yesterday, things were going on in Washington:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a physicist, not a politician, but he was unflappable under attack from Republicans and refused to apologize for a $535-million loan guarantee given to now-bankrupt solar equipment maker Solyndra.
In his first appearance before Congress since the Solyndra controversy broke nearly three months ago, Chu firmly pushed back against allegations that political favoritism and bureaucratic incompetence led his agency to approve the Solyndra loan guarantee.
“Was there incompetence?” Chu said in response to Michigan Republican Fred Upton’s request for an apology. “Was there any influence of a political nature? So I would say no. It is extremely unfortunate what has happened to Solyndra.”
Chu is the highest-level Obama administration member so far to testify about his agency’s role in the decision to back the Fremont, Calif., manufacturer, which closed its doors at the end of August.
Upton, the committee’s chairman, had framed the hearing as an inquiry into Chu’s involvement. “What did Secretary Chu know about the situation at Solyndra, when did he know it and how did he act on this information, if at all?”
Chu said he knew few of the details about Solyndra until the company began to falter late last year and needed its loan guarantee restructured. Many of the decisions about the loan were made by career civil servants, emails have shown.
Chu, a Nobel prize winner and Washington outsider, parried often-repetitive questions over the nearly five hours of the hearing. During his testimony, he made clear that he had little hope of recovering most of the money backed by the Energy Department’s guarantee.
That’s an improvement over “I don’t recall . . . I don’t recall . . . I don’t recall.” But not much of one.