History regurgitates itself; we already know about the crime, now here comes the cover-up.
General Motors, still reeling from the faulty ignition switch scandal that the automaker was lethally slow to act upon, is now under the microscope by federal prosecutors for hiding the role of upper management in concealing the problems and then placing the blame disproportionately on lower-level managers and employees.
The Feds are focusing on the role of upper-level lawyers in GM's executive suite who may have been involved in meetings with senior management in which the ignition issues were discussed. Prosecutors want to know how these lawyers were involved and how they acted on the information that they learned.
What prosecutors are seeking to prove is that lawyers within GM deliberately hid vital evidence from regulators and other government officials.
The issue is centered on probable cause for at least 13 deaths and 54 accidents being attributed to faulty ignition switches on an assortment of GM vehicles. These switches were prone to being easily shut off while the vehicles were in motion, causing full power loss and loss of power steering and braking control. The defective switch was used in 2.6 million Cobalt models and other GM vehicles.
GM has already dismissed 15 lawyers and employees in its legal department, but these are apparently low-level staffers. Federal prosecutors are aiming higher up in the executive flow chart.
The investigation is still in its beginning phase -- there are no certainties that any indictments will result from it.
Prosecutors began to take a harder look at the workings of GM's legal department after GM released an internal report in June that was critical of the company's legal team for failing to get on top of lawsuits pertaining to defective air bags. The report also criticized GM lawyers for not communicating their concerns about these lawsuits to other managers within GM.
Prosecutors are under pressure from legislators to stay on top of GM ever since the company was roundly taken to task by Congress for its delays in addressing the ignition switch debacle. For example, in a July Senate hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, "Here the lawyers for GM actually enabled cover-up, concealment, deceit and even fraud." Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked GM CEO Mary Barra "How in the world, in the aftermath of the report, did Michael Millikin (GM general counsel) keep his job?"
Millikin has been with GM since 1977, and general counsel since 2009, when he steered the company through its government buyout during GM's bankruptcy proceedings.