Exclusive: Congressional probe looks at Barra's, GM executives' links to switch

Tue May 6, 2014 5:23pm EDT
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By Marilyn Thompson and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional investigators are examining whether General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra and other senior executives were more involved than they have publicly acknowledged as the automaker considered how to deal with a deadly ignition switch issue linked to at least 13 deaths, three sources familiar with the probe say.

The investigators also are examining whether executives acted fast enough, once they learned of the problem, said the congressional sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

At issue is who knew about and was responsible for an internal investigation in 2011-2013 that eventually discovered the switch issue which has led to the recall of 2.6 million cars.

GM documents, including emails and internal reports released by congressional investigators, show two former Barra lieutenants, Terry Woychowski and Jim Federico, worked with the GM field engineer who ran the internal probe from August 2011 to December 2013.

Documents reviewed by congressional investigators give no indication the two men informed Barra of the probe. But investigators are still struggling to understand GM's complex structure, who made decisions on the probe, and who was accountable for the work.

The congressional committees plan to hold hearings to question attorney Anthony Valukas, who is running a current company investigation into how it handled the switch, and former CEO Dan Akerson, who ran the company during the 2011-2013 probe. Spokespeople for Akerson and Valukas said they declined to comment.

GM spokesman Jim Cain reiterated the company position that top executives did not learn of the defect until January 31 of this year, when the decision to recall was made.

"The whole purpose of the Valukas investigation is to understand the entire chronology of events and who knew what when, and what decisions were made or should have been made," he said.   Continued...

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies before the Senate Commerce and Transportation Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance subcommittee in Washington April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron