Video: Criminal probe opening in GM recall?

posted at 10:41 am on March 13, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Did political considerations within the federal government delay a recall of defective GM ignition switches? This issue has been percolating for a few weeks, when the automaker finally initiated a recall of over a million vehicles after years of complaints and more than a dozen deaths. The defect had been known to GM since at least 2004 — and to the NHTSA since 2007. Now a wide recall is in effect, but criminal investigators have begun probes into the delay and the deaths, according to this CNN report from earlier today:

General Motors Co. faced new pressure from a powerful member of Congress to explain why it took nearly a decade to recall 1.6 million vehicles for faulty ignitions linked to 13 deaths, even as the auto maker hired a high-profile lawyer to lead its internal investigation and stepped up warnings to customers.

Late Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would launch an investigation into the slow recall and hold hearings. …

On Monday, GM launched a website to provide customers with information about the recall, warning owners of the affected vehicles to remove extra weight off their car ignition keys. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the auto maker until April 3 to answer 107 questions about its handling of the problem.

GM employees knew about the defect as early as 2004. The company has released a chronology sketching out in broad terms how the faulty switch was discovered and how the issue bounced around within its engineering division. The company’s disclosures to date don’t reveal who was responsible for the timing of the recall.

The NHTSA has its own questions to answer:

Meanwhile, the NHTSA hasn’t said why it didn’t take action after one of its own officials pointed out the potential problem during a March 2007 meeting. NHTSA officials have declined to comment on the meeting or provide any documentation about it.

Small wonder that Congress wants its own probe.  Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) chairs that committee, and he wants to look at both GM and NHTSA for its failures.

Liz Peek, my colleague at The Fiscal Times, wonders whether politics played a role in keeping this quiet in the first place:

By 2011 there had been 204 complaints lodged. In 2010 then-Congressman Barney Frank inquired on behalf of a constituent about the multiple accidents apparently brought on by the random deceleration issue. He was told by NHTSA that it had “insufficient evidence to warrant opening a safety defect investigation.”  By that time, there had been several fatalities related to Cobalts’ stalling. Still, NHTSA did nothing.

At the same time, after the Obama administration had orchestrated a government takeover of General Motors, NHTSA hit Toyota with its largest-ever fine and demanded a recall of some 9 million cars and trucks. Over several years, NHTSA had received more than 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration in Toyotas; there had been some 75 fatal crashes. Though the incidents of problems continued to mount, it was not clear at the time of the recall what exactly accounted for the mishaps. The Wall Street Journalannounced that a report attributing most of the accidents to driver error had been “temporarily blocked” by safety officials, acting under the direction of Secretary of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. …

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, evidence of problems in various GM cars – and especially the Chevy Cobalts — continued to mount. To date, the auto maker has reported 13 deaths   related to sudden deceleration in various GM models. While the government is now questioning why the Detroit firm delayed initiating a recall of the troubled vehicles, one can also challenge NHTSA’s hands-off attitude.

According to The Times, there were only 260 complaints specifically mentioning stalling, but almost 8,000 reports of problems that could be tied to the same defect – plenty of complaints to alert safety watchdogs. In all, the vehicles recalled have been involved in 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries.

If so, though, the sequence of events suggest that any protectionism would have started in the Bush administration, which was in office for almost two years after NHTSA’s first recorded acquaintance with the problem. In those two years, GM nearly collapsed and Chrysler all but did during the financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps both administrations felt it best to tread carefully to keep from shuttering GM, if there was any political machinations going on at all. Certainly, though, the NHTSA will have to explain why it got so tough with Toyota at the same time people were dying from GM defects that they were doing their best to ignore.

The problem is that, these days, we can believe all too well that the institutions of regulatory control can be exploited for political gain:

Unhappily, after the IRS targeting of right-wing groups, the manipulation of jobs numbers by census workers, the misleading accounts of the Benghazi tragedy and the deceptive marketing of Obamacare, we have lost trust in President Obama’s White House. Anything seems possible.

That is, as always, a great argument for limited government in the first place. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and trust is the first casualty.


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Gee, funny how the NHTSA suddenly gets around to this after the government divested itself of all that worthless GM stock. I hope this brings down the entire company for the corrupt partisans they are.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Money. Who got paid to cover it all up?

HiJack on March 13, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Went from “too big to fail” to an explicit conflict of interest with State ownership of the company.

If you want the State running car companies, or medical services, who then regulates them? Who do you turn to if you’ve been wronged?

forest on March 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM

I assume that DOJ must have given up on a civil action because it was moot.

Keep in mind the GM that perpetrated this outrage is bankrupt and a distant memory..

J_Crater on March 13, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Yes, Bush was in office. However, the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and they led the investigation against GM. It’s the same thing that happened with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They were in dire straits, but the Democratic establishment protected both of them from scrutiny.

djaymick on March 13, 2014 at 11:02 AM

No sweat, the Taxpayers (those of us who are left) will make good on any potential GM losses…

vnvet on March 13, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Another investigation…
*yawn*

Hill60 on March 13, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Did political considerations within the federal government delay a recall of defective GM ignition switches?

Yes. It’s called crony capitalism. It’s the way it works in corrupt regimes, like our own.

makattak on March 13, 2014 at 11:04 AM

I have to ask .. can the 2004-2007 GM be subject to criminal prosecution ?

According to the terms of TARP, the result of the reorganization is not subject to review by the courts. The liabilities of 2004-2007 GM have be quantified by the TARP settlement (however lousy it is).

DOJ has no say at this point regarding a new settlement. That can only be done by Barack Obama.

You might remember …

One participant in negotiations said that the administration’s tactic was to present what one described as a “madman theory of the presidency” in which the President is someone to be feared because he was willing to do anything to get his way. The person said this threat was taken very seriously by his firm.

J_Crater on March 13, 2014 at 11:07 AM

DOJ has no say at this point regarding a new civil settlement. That can only be done by Barack Obama.

But does that also apply to criminal activity that might generate a “fine” or legal fees ?
Given the President’s position, does DOJ have a conflict-of-interest ?

J_Crater on March 13, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Gee, funny how the NHTSA suddenly gets around to this after the government divested itself of all that worthless GM stock. I hope this brings down the entire company for the corrupt partisans they are.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2014 at 10:50 AM

No one was MADDER about this than Obama when he read about it in the paper this morning.

ConstantineXI on March 13, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Did the government know they might sue GM when they sold securities of the new GM to consumers ? This might be fraud.

J_Crater on March 13, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Obama, when he reads about this in the newspaper, will be madder then anyone…

Electrongod on March 13, 2014 at 11:30 AM

All those regulations. All those regulators. Apparently none of this stopped Madoff or GM.

GarandFan on March 13, 2014 at 11:41 AM

Unhappily, after the IRS targeting of right-wing groups, the manipulation of jobs numbers by census workers, the misleading accounts of the Benghazi tragedy and the deceptive marketing of Obamacare, we have lost trust in President Obama’s White House. Anything seems possible.

Lets not forget perhaps the worst incompetent cover up of them all… and the most deadly ….

Fast and Furious

Defenestratus on March 13, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Hmmm. I had one of these. I had to replace the ignition switch and had it towed twice from a key problem.

Key used to come out and the engine would still be running. Discovered this while getting gas once.

Gave all the repair records to the new owner.

ah well. . . .

Wander on March 13, 2014 at 12:01 PM

All those regulations. All those regulators. Apparently none of this stopped Madoff or GM.

GarandFan on March 13, 2014 at 11:41 AM

This. Along the same thought, remember the Navy Yard shooter and the hand wringing about how he was given a badge? The “investigating” organization failed to do their job there too. They either ignore clearance applications and let them languish or rubber stamp them without doing any investigating.

lucyvanpelt on March 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Forget the Military-Industrial complex. It’s the Government-Union Labor complex that must be destroyed to save the country.

Rusty Nail on March 13, 2014 at 12:38 PM

If so, though, the sequence of events suggest that any protectionism would have started in the Bush administration, which was in office for almost two years after NHTSA’s first recorded acquaintance with the problem.

Bush may have been President, but GM has always been well protected by the Michigan Democrats. Does the name Debbie Dingell ring a bell? She was not “technically” a lobbyist for GM during this time, but she was head of the GM Foundation which gave her even better access to the halls of Congress and didn’t require GNM to disclose anything she was doing.

rockmom on March 13, 2014 at 12:48 PM

So what do we do for Toyota to make up for the outrageous treatment they received in Congressional preenings?

It appears that Toyota was used as the squirrel, to detract from the corrupt GM and greedy UAW collusion with the REB’s administration.

slickwillie2001 on March 13, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Only fools, truth-blind patriots, and propagandized children trust the government, and any “government authority” (which is a code word for thug).

earlgrey on March 13, 2014 at 1:25 PM

So what do we do for Toyota to make up for the outrageous treatment they received in Congressional preenings?

It appears that Toyota was used as the squirrel, to detract from the corrupt GM and greedy UAW collusion with the REB’s administration.

slickwillie2001 on March 13, 2014 at 1:22 PM

EXACTLY. Every podunk news channel on Earth was all over Toyota for something that wasn’t ultimatley their fault anyway. Yet with GM?
Crickets.

I drive a GMC but my next vehicle will be a Toyota.

Free Indeed on March 13, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) chairs that committee, and he wants to look at both GM and NHTSA for its failures.

Fred Upton was sure quick to ban light bulbs but not so quick on this where lives are being lost.

RJL on March 13, 2014 at 4:42 PM

And if we would have dug a little deeper, we would have found mischief behind that Toyota recall about the supposed runaway cars. Chicagocrat Government, Government motors, unions. It’s just corrupt beyond words.

Buddahpundit on March 13, 2014 at 8:26 PM

Went from “too big to fail” to an explicit conflict of interest with State ownership of the company.

If you want the State running car companies, or medical services, who then regulates them? Who do you turn to if you’ve been wronged?

forest on March 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Indeed.

That is, as always, a great argument for limited government in the first place. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and trust is the first casualty.

Truth is on the ropes from the moment someone realizes they can get gain from corrupt use of their power, before they actually do anything.

Nothing new under the sun:

30 And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret.

31 And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.

(Moses 5, Pearl of Great Price, LDS scriptures)

AesopFan on March 14, 2014 at 12:17 AM

I actually had this issue with my 2009 Chevy Cobalt. After stopping during lunch hour to get gas the ignition locked when I tried to start it and would not start again. The car was not even 2 yrs old! After hours later, having it towed to dealer repair they fixed it for over 600.00. Later I read about the problems on a recall notice and contacted the company, filled out the paperwork and sent in copies of receipts they paid me all of 200. They refused to pay me to have my electronic keys bought and coded for it, and they refused to pay for the labor to take the bad ignition out. Im so glad this didn’t happen when I was driving. I traded in the Cobalt for 2012 Impala and everyone in my house vowed never to buy another Cobalt again.

canditaylor68 on March 15, 2014 at 1:10 PM