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Senators call on GM CEO to fire top lawyer

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm •  Published: July 17, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers demanded General Motors fire its chief lawyer and do more to help crash victims as a Senate subcommittee delved deeper into GM's mishandling of the recall of small cars with defective ignition switches.

Thursday's grilling was GM's fourth appearance before Congress, but senators aren't done with their investigation. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee, said she will hold a hearing in the next few weeks to ask government safety regulators about their role in the recall.

GM has admitted that it knew about the faulty switches for more than a decade before recalling the cars. The ignition switches can slip out of the "run" position, causing the engines to stall and shutting off power to the air bags. It took years for GM engineers to connect the switch problem to the failure of the air bags to deploy.

GM recalled 2.6 million small cars beginning in February. That recall prompted an unprecedented safety review within the company, which has since issued 54 separate recalls for 29 million vehicles.

McCaskill praised GM CEO Mary Barra, saying she has "confronted the problem head on and the corporate culture that caused it."

But McCaskill also put Barra on the spot, telling the CEO she should have fired GM's corporate counsel, Michael Millikin, based on the conclusions of an internal report by outside attorney Anton Valukas. Barra, with Millikin sitting beside her, defended him as a man of "tremendously high integrity."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said GM needs to be more transparent and assume more responsibility. He called for the public release of all of the documents given to Valukas and the unsealing of previous lawsuit settlements. He also asked if GM will waive the legal shield that protects it from lawsuits related to crashes that happened before its July 2009 bankruptcy.

In each case, Millikin said no.

Blumenthal asked whether a compensation plan for victims of small-car crashes should be expanded to other recalls. Specifically the 8.2 million older large cars — such as the Chevrolet Impala and Malibu — that GM recalled on June 30 for defective ignition keys. Three deaths were linked to that issue, but GM has yet identify the cause.

Kenneth Feinberg, the compensation expert administering the plan, said he was only hired to deal with the initial recalls. Barra said the June 30 recall was due to different issues.

The compensation plan will take claims between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31. Blumenthal suggested that victims should be allowed to delay their compensation payments until the Justice Department finishes its investigation into GM. That investigation will likely find evidence of "cover-up, concealment, deceit and even fraud," he said.

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