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July 18, 2014

Senators call on CEO to fire top lawyer

WASHINGTON — 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.

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