FREMONT, Calif. - Mitt Romney made a surprise trip Thursday to the former California headquarters of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra to accuse President Obama of currying favor with campaign supporters by giving a federal loan to the green energy company, which eventually went bankrupt.
“This half-billion-dollar taxpayer investment represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team,’’ the Republican presidential candidate said as he stood outside the shuttered company and held it up as Exhibit A of presidential missteps on the economy.
He offered no proof of conflict of interest during the visit, which was shrouded in a highly unusual amount of secrecy. His aides said the campaign feared Obama supporters would interfere with the appearance.
At roughly the same time across the country in Boston, Obama’s campaign staged its own event outside the State House to argue that Romney’s record as governor from 2003 to 2007 proves he is ill-prepared to manage the nation’s economy. That event was greeted by heckling Romney supporters, many shouting “Solyndra, Solyndra.’’
Solyndra has emerged as a vulnerability for Obama because the company received $535 million in loan guarantees from Obama’s Energy Department in 2009 only to go bankrupt two years later, sparking an ongoing investigation. The loan guarantee program, designed to spur alternative energy projects, was created during George W. Bush’s administration.
Republicans have been assailing Obama on Solyndra for months, partly by pointing to the connection between Obama fund-raisers and the company while arguing that the president used government policies to benefit campaign supporters.
Steve Spinner, a former Energy Department official, raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s campaign. E-mails released earlier by congressional investigators show that Spinner was actively involved in the Solyndra loan despite pledging to step aside because his wife’s law firm represented the company.
Romney suggested a political payoff, saying: “Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.’’
The administration says the loan was awarded on the merits and that GOP efforts have failed to turn up a “smoking gun.’’ The Energy Department’s inspector general so far has only criticized the department itself for problems with the loan program.
Bushes visit White House to unveil official portraits
WASHINGTON - President Obama is building his case for reelection on the need to avoid returning to the failed policies of his predecessor. But on Thursday, Obama laid down the political cudgel to pay tribute to George W. Bush at the unveiling of the former president’s official White House portrait.
Hailing Bush as a steadfast leader after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama said Americans would never forget the image of Bush standing atop a pile of rubble at the World Trade Center, bullhorn in hand. He also thanked him for his work in making the presidential transition as seamless as possible.
“Plus,’’ Obama said, grinning at his predecessor in the East Room, “you left me a really good TV sports package. I use it.’’
Bush responded in kind, with a mix of gratitude to Obama and his wife, Michelle, and a series of one-liners about joining a collection of portraits going back to George Washington (the other president with the initials G.W., he noted).
“Thanks so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging,’’ he said to laughter. Bush then praised his wife, Laura, his mother, Barbara, and above all his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who attended the ceremony in a wheelchair.
George and Laura Bush then lifted black sheets to unveil a pair of portraits by the artist John Howard Sanden. George Bush is depicted standing in the Oval Office in front of one of his favorite paintings, “A Charge to Keep,’’ a 1929 Western that he used for the title for his 1999 memoir. Laura Bush’s portrait shows her in a midnight-blue gown standing in the Green Room, which she helped refurbish in 2007.
NEW YORK TIMES