While U.S. Senate candidate Angus King was busy discussing the ethical benefits of selling his company, behind the scenes Independence Wind was becoming part of a congressional probe into inappropriate federal loan guarantees.Despite an increasingly tangled timeline, the former governor’s campaign maintains he had no knowledge of the probe.
Congressional investigators sent an official letter to King’s wind company, informing them of an expanded investigation into the recipients of a stimulus-funded Department of Energy loan program, from which King’s company received a $102 million loan guarantee. The letter, sent to King business partner Robert Gardiner, was dated March 14, two days before King and his campaign conducted multiple interviews discussing his decision to divest himself of holdings in the company, and six days before the King campaign claims the candidate was made aware of the investigation.
“In light of Solyndra’s bankruptcy and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) apparent rush to approve billions of dollar in loan guarantees before the expiration of the 1705 loan guarantee program, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (the Committee) began an investigation of the entire DOE 1705 loan guarantee program. The Committee’s investigation reveals a troubling pattern where DOE officials appear to have violated agency rules and regulations to approve otherwise ineligible loan commitments. Based on these revelations, the Committee intends to expand its investigation.”
The letter requests that King’s company begin a strict process of document preservation to assist in the investigation:
“To enable the Committee to understand DOE’s loan process, the Committee requests that all beneficiaries of DOE-based loan guarantees produce documents, including communications, between their company and DOE surrounding the issuance of loan guarantee commitments.”
King’s campaign said Monday they were standing by previous statements that King was unaware of the investigation until Tuesday the 20th, and that Robert Gardiner did not make him aware of the letter in advance of their negotiated sale that closed on Sunday, March 18. The King campaign will not release details of the sale, but documents show the company at one time had over $120 million in cash in a bank account in New Hampshire.
Robert Gardiner said he and King had “read in the papers” that the Oversight Committee was reviewing the Department of Energy loan guarantee program.
“They sent me a letter to my Brunswick office that was then forwarded to me in Louisiana,” said Gardiner. Gardiner said the letter requested information about the Record Hill wind project, but, before they had a chance to respond, the report was released. When asked if King was aware of the investigation prior to his press appearances, Gardiner said no.
“He didn’t know a thing about it.”
King’s campaign said the candidate began the process of selling his stake in Independence Wind on March 12, and noted an email on that date from King to his attorneys, asking them to begin working on the necessary paperwork.
King spoke with multiple media sources about his plans to distance himself from Independence Wind, beginning with an interview on New England Cable News on Friday the 16th, the same day Gardiner would have received the letter from investigators via email. King spoke with MPBN that day as well, and reporter AJ Higgins filed a story that afternoon titled “King Resigning from Wind Company he Founded”. According to the story, “King says the paperwork that allows him to exit Independence Wind should be complete by the first of next week. As a result, any financial benefits he might have received from federal energy subsidies as a principal in the company will no longer be valid issues in his campaign.”
On Monday, the Associated Press ran a story based on a similar interview with King, titled “Angus King: If I’m elected, I’ll put investments in blind trust”:
“Independent Senate candidate Angus King completed the transfer of his stake in a wind energy company he co-founded to his business partner and said Monday he would go one step further to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest by placing his investments in a blind trust.”
The AP reported that King had formally transferred his stake in Independence Wind on Sunday night, March 18. The AP story was widely distributed throughout Maine media.
There was no mention of the congressional investigation in any of the interviews.
The Oversight Committee’s report naming King’s company was released on the evening of Monday the 19th. The Maine Wire contacted the King campaign on Tuesday the 20th and asked them about the report. According to Crystal Canney, King’s communications director, neither King nor the campaign was aware of the report until they received a copy of it from The Maine Wire on the 20th.
A spokesperson for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform told The Maine Wire that attorneys for the committee had sent the letter to Independence Wind, along with 25 other companies named in the pending report. The letter was sent via email on Friday March 16, and King’s business partner responded to the committee on Tuesday March 20th, acknowledging receipt.
Though King and Gardiner finalized the sale of Independence Wind on Sunday, March 18, the King campaign told The Maine Wire that Gardiner did not forward the letter from the Oversight Committee to King until the evening of Tuesday, March 20.
Asked whether the candidate had concern that he completed the sale of a company that at one time had over $120 million in liquid assets without knowledge of an expanded congressional investigation, King’s campaign would not comment further.