Claire McCaskill declared that the “corporate culture” prompted GM to ignore and cover up years of defect-related crashes, but that’s not the whole story. “You don’t need an investigation to understand that they had a defective switch,” McCaskill told ABC’s This Week, “and someone at GM in the engineering department changed that switch and didn’t change the part number.” McCaskill even manages to bring in Citizens United as part of her outrage. Yet McCaskill never mentions that the “federal regulators” — NHTSA — knew about the defect and didn’t do anything about it at all.

Jon Karl challenges McCaskill on that point, at which she tries changing the subject (at the five-minute mark):


ABC US News | ABC Business News

Instead of talking about the NHTSA’s lack of action, McCaskill offers a non-sequitur about engineers hiding information and executives perhaps conspiring to join them in doing so. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that the NHTSA knew about the defect and the deaths, and did nothing about it. Karl doesn’t follow up on the question, and the ABC report linked above doesn’t even include that exchange. The transcript does:

KARL: Well, let me ask you about those government regulators and those executive offices. Of course government regulators knew about this and for various degree going back several years. And remember, GM was a wholly owned subsidiary of the United States government following the bailout.

What is the government, the U.S. government responsibility for what happened here?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think a lot of this depends on when the knowledge that we know the engineers had was in fact transferred up the chain.

And that’s what this — these investigations will show.

It is possible that these engineers were so interested in covering themselves, especially this Mr. Ray DeGiorgio who perjured himself a number of times in his deposition — he lied over and over again. Because afterwards, we found the document where he signed off on the changes, a document which was never given to the lawyers in that case, by the way.

So when did that information that was in the engineering sector move to the executive level of General Motors. That’s what we don’t know. That’s what Mary Barra refused to talk about until the investigation is complete. That’s why her — I put her on the spot and said will you come back in front of this committee after this investigation is over. And she committed on the record that she would.

No, this doesn’t depend on “up the chain” issues. We already know that NHTSA had the data on the defect and its impact, yet chose to do nothing about it while they went after GM’s top competitor Toyota over its sudden-acceleration issues. David Harsanyi wrote about it last week:

As early as 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) knew that there may be problems with air bags but never launched a formal investigation. The NHTSA’s acting chief, David Friedman, testified that GM never told the agency that faulty switches were at the root of the air bag problem. Fine. Before plowing billions of tax dollars into saving the United Automobile Workers, did the car czar or any other Obama officials take extra care to review DOT records to ensure that taxpayers would not be funding the preventable deaths of American citizens? Would DOT and Holder exhibit the same zealousness for safety with GM as they did when it came to Toyota?

In the midst of the bailout debate and subsequent “turnaround,” news of a cover-up and major recall would have been a political disaster.

So it’s difficult to understand why this isn’t a huge scandal. If every obtuse utterance by an obscure Republican congressman gets the media juices flowing, surely the possibility of this kind of negligence is worth a look. Can anyone with access to the administration ask some of these questions? Because if you take credit for “saving” a company (actually, an “industry,” as no one would have ever driven again if Obama hadn’t saved the day), you also get credit for “saving” the real-life unscrupulous version of the company.

“I placed my bet on the American worker,” Obama told union workers in 2012. “And I’ll make that bet any day of the week. And now, three years later, that bet is paying off.”

Betting $80 billion of someone else’s money to prop up sympathetic labor unions isn’t exactly fraught with political risk. Unless it turns out that your administration is less concerned about the safety defects of the company you own than it is about the company you dislike. That would be corruption.

By 2011, there had been 204 complaints lodged with the NHTSA over the air-bag issue with GM cars. Did NHTSA turn a blind eye to GM’s defect because of the ownership position of the federal government? Why isn’t McCaskill pursuing that issue as well as GM’s “corporate culture” and bemoaning Citizens United, another complete non-sequitur?