(WASHINGTON) — The House Energy and Commerce committee released documents late Wednesday that show former General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson had planned to meet with Solyndra in California at the same time GSA employees attended a lavish Las Vegas conference, but she changed her mind just days before her trip. An investigation into that conference and other wasteful spending at GSA led to Johnson’s resignation earlier this month.
Johnson did not attend the Solyndra meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010, just days before the congressional midterm elections. Instead, travel records show she went to Portland, Ore., for three days to visit a GSA-sponsored construction project that taught women new job skills with stimulus money.
According to documents released by the committee, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison had informed the Department of Energy on Oct. 25 that the green energy company intended to announce layoffs three days later, on Oct. 28, the same day Johnson considered attending meetings. Solyndra ended up delaying the announcement until after the election at the request of the White House, according to the committee.
In one document released by the committee from Oct. 25, GSA deputy administrator Susan Brita wrote a GSA spokesperson asking for details of Johnson’s upcoming trip to Solyndra.
“I’m coordinating with the Solyndra folks today to tie down the details. I’ll let you know if anything changes, but as of now the event is the morning of Thursday the 28th,” the spokesperson answered on Oct. 25. “I’m shooting for 10:30ish. MJ [Martha Johnson] will take a tour of the plant and speak to plant execs and workers. No formal remarks. I’m inviting a few targeted reporters who seem like good fits for this sort of thing.”
Solyndra is the now-bankrupt green energy company that the Obama administration had provided with a $535 million loan through the stimulus.
Republicans believe the timing is curious and contend the trip was scrapped due to Solyndra’s pending layoffs announcement, amid concerns by Democrats over political fallout from the layoffs.
Reached for comment, a White House spokesman said, “We don’t normally respond to or even get asked about events that never transpire.”
The White House and GSA both maintain that Johnson never met with Solyndra at any point during her tenure at GSA. There are no records that a meeting with Solyndra ever transpired.
Johnson also was set to receive an award in San Francisco the same week, but she had someone else accept the prize on her behalf.
ABC News reported Tuesday that a senior GSA official, Jeff Neely, who is currently on administrative leave, testified in a government investigation that Johnson missed the 2010 Western Regions Conference to attend “a meeting with Salindra [sic].” Other records prove Neely’s testimony incorrect, even if he had caught wind of Johnson’s planned meetings.
Administration officials said she did not meet there and provided records Wednesday morning that showed Johnson traveled to Portland, Ore., instead.
The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.
Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference. Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.
Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled beginning Monday to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week. Johnson and Neely are both invited to testify at two hearings on the House side of the Capitol.
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