| WASHINGTON, July 17
WASHINGTON, July 17 Two more major figures in
General Motors Co's safety debacle will appear on
Thursday for the first time before U.S. lawmakers investigating
why it took the automaker more than 10 years to recall millions
of vehicles with a deadly ignition switch flaw.
Michael Millikin, the general counsel of GM, and Rodney
O'Neal, the chief executive of Delphi Automotive, the
maker of the defective part, are due to testify before a Senate
Millikin is expected to receive harsh scrutiny because his
legal department dealt with numerous private lawsuits related to
crashes involving the defective switches, but apparently did not
urgently warn other parts of GM.
The Senate panel holding Thursday's hearing is chaired by
Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill. "Claire will be posing some
tough questions that haven't yet been answered about the role
GM's legal department played in delaying this recall," said Andy
Newbold, spokesman for McCaskill.
In his prepared testimony, Millikin said GM has appointed an
outside law firm to review its litigation practices.
Millikin and other top GM executives were largely exonerated
in an internal investigation that GM hired lawyer Anton Valukas
to conduct and that was released last month. Instead, Valukas
blamed lower-level lawyers and engineers for failing to properly
flag the issue and not connecting air bag failures to the
ignition switch defect.
Lower-level lawyers were among the 15 employees that GM
forced out over the scandal. Millikin said in his prepared
testimony that he did not learn of the extent of the specific
defect until February of this year.
So far, GM has attributed 13 deaths and 54 crashes to the
specific defect, in which the ignition switch can slip from the
"run" to the "accessory" position, causing the engine to stall,
air bags to not deploy, and a loss of power brakes and power
GM this week started running full-page advertisements in
newspapers across the United States advising consumers that the
"key to safety" in operating the recalled vehicles is to use a
single key, with no other items on the key ring, until repairs
can be completed.
It is the first time GM has run an ad related to the
ignition switch defect, the company said, adding it is intended
to raise awareness among affected consumers. "This is another
important element of our continued commitment to customer
safety," said GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey.
DELPHI ON HOT SEAT
The House of Representatives and Senate have held a handful
of hearings in which they have demanded answers from GM CEO Mary
Barra about why the automaker failed to act more quickly, but
lawmakers have not sharply focused on GM's lawyers.
It is not clear how roughly the panel will treat Delphi CEO
O'Neal and his company, which so far has largely avoided the
harshest criticism over the scandal. Lawmakers have credited the
manufacturer with proposing a fix to the switch in 2005 that GM
did not immediately adopt.
Also, the Justice Department is not targeting Delphi in its
criminal probe of GM's handling of the safety defect, according
to sources familiar with the investigation.
A House committee aide said last week that Delphi submitted
about 7,500 pages of documents in the probe and that the company
is continuing to produce more documents.
Appearing along with Millikin and O'Neal on Thursday will be
Barra, Valukas, and Kenneth Feinberg, a prominent lawyer helping
GM establish a victims' compensation fund.
Feinberg may be questioned about whether the death toll will
rise as he starts reviewing claims.
The hearing may also explore the legislative response to the
safety scandal. Two U.S. senators on Wednesday introduced a bill
prompted by the GM recalls that would make it a crime for
corporate officers to conceal dangers posed by their products.
It may take months, however, for the Senate and House to
agree on reforms. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Fred Upton, who has also held hearings on the GM recalls, said
no decision has been made on how specifically to approach
"With the schedule the way that it is, I don't know that
we'll look at any legislation this year. We'll see," Upton told
Reuters on Tuesday.
(Writing by Karey Van Hall; editing by Matthew Lewis)