Declining to allow his client to take accountability for crashes that occurred before the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy and agreeing to keep recall reports obscured from the public, GM's top lawyer found himself under fire at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill. GM CEO Mary Barra praised his integrity, but members of the subcommittee called for his job.
A decade had crawled by before GM finally linked faulty ignition switches with un-deployed airbags, which prompted a 2.6 million-car recall and led to 54 other call back campaigns that affected approximately 29 million vehicles. While it was Barra and company's fourth time appearing before Congress to address the matter, the latest hearing was no more lax than the previous sessions.
Barra received praise from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for "stepping up" and moving with the conviction necessary to battle GM's problems and culture that caused them. But McCaskill and other senators expressed their belief that Michael Millikin, GM's top lawyer, was fully aware of the ignition issues well before the recall was initiated and should have advised the automaker of its liability.
"In the aftermath of this report, how in the world did Michael Millikin keep his job," said McCaskill. "I do not understand how the general counsel for a litigation department that had this massive failure of responsibility, how he would be allowed to continue in that important leadership role in this company."
Millikin said he only became aware of ignition switch problems in February of 2014, while Barra said the company had a system in place that failed them.
Barra said there were senior lawyers who had knowledge of the company's liability with regard to the faulty ignition switches, but they failed to share the information. They have already been dismissed, she told the subcommittee.
Barra turned down the subcommittee's request that the automaker expand its compensation program to include victims harmed due to issues crashes related to a similar, but separate recall that involved 8 million vehicles with ignition switch woes. Barra said there were "distinct differences" between the parts at fault.
Along with declining to serve more individuals harmed by recalled products, GM also refused to make public the records it shared with Anton Valukas during his independent instigation of the automaker.
So far, 13 deaths have been linked to GM's faulty ignition switches. The automaker said it planned to begin processing the claims of families whose loved ones were injured in recalled vehicles, starting on Aug. 1.