Senators accuse General Motors of cover up

WASHINGTON -- In Washington, D.C., Wednesday, senators accused General Motors of covering up a defect that has killed at least 13 people.

Families held photos of loved ones as GM's CEO Mary Barra was questioned about why the company delayed for a decade the recall of more than two million cars.

There is a problem in the ignition switch that can kill the engine, power steering, power brakes and air bags. A CBS News investigation uncovered much of what we know.

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra had few answers
CBS News
On Wednesday many questions for Barra were about why no one at GM has been dismissed over the delayed recall.

"I for the life of me can't understand why he still has his job," Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, said of GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, who is still at the company today.

A memo shows DeGiorgio signed off on a new ignition switch to replace a faulty one in 2006, but the part number was never changed - so there was no way to differentiate between old switches and new ones.

Barra had few answers.

"I don't have the complete facts to share with you today," she said. "I became aware of the defect and the recall on Jan. 3."

When a key is inserted into the ignition, the problem was in the back of the ignition switch assembly. A part called the detent plunger was too short - and did not fit snugly into its slot. The looseness meant the key could spontaneously twist - turning the car off and disabling safety features.

The replacement plunger is 15 percent longer than the defective one - snugly fitting into position and holding the key in place.

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Mass. Sen. Edward Markey said the faulty switch meant the difference between life and death
CBS News

"We now know that the difference between this switch and one that would have worked was the difference between life and death," said Sen. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat.

We also now know that at least 17 GM employees, including DeGiorgio and the executive in charge of small cars at GM, Lori Queen, were on an email that said GM was "very aware of an issue with inadvertent ignition offs" in 2005.

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A part called the detent plunger was too short
CBS News
No recall came until nine years later. Barra pleaded ignorance - blaming the old GM.

"You don't know anything about anything," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California.

"You have been involved in this since you became CEO," Boxer said. "Have you not looked into this?"

Barra, who said an internal investigation would take up to 60 days, was also asked repeatedly if GM deceived the government in 2009 by taking a bailout without revealing ignition problems. The bailout gave it immunity from accident claims.

"Can you tell us whether General Motors intentionally misled its customers and federal regulators when someone decided to delay disclosing or fixing the faulty ignition switch?" asked Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican.

"I don't know," Barra said. "That's why we're doing the investigation."

Barra says the recalled vehicles are still safe to drive as long as drivers use the key only. But on Friday in Texas a federal judge will hear a request that all the recall vehicles be parked immediately.

general motors recalls 2
general motors recalls 2
CBS


  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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