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McCaskill Grills GM Head Over Safety Recalls

provided by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill

Members of a Senate panel Wednesday accused General Motors of trying to cover up problems with an ignition switch that is now tied to 13 deaths.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing, senators – including Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- tried to get GM CEO Mary Barra to promise that anyone involved in such a cover-up would be punished. They also said GM should tell owners to stop driving all of the 2.6 million cars that are now being recalled for the faulty switch until they are repaired. GM is currently telling owners that the cars are fine to drive, as long as nothing is placed on the key chain.

As she did on Tuesday at a House hearing, Barra said many of the details Congress is looking for will come out in an internal GM investigation. And she tried to assure lawmakers that the company is now focused on safety and the consumers.

But many senators were not convinced. McCaskill told Barra that GM had ample time to recall cars equipped with a faulty ignition switch that’s linked to at least 13 deaths.

"It might have been the old GM that started sweeping this defect under the rug ten years ago. But even under the ‘new GM’ the company waited nine months to take action after being confronted with specific evidence of this egregious violation of public trust," McCaskill said.

Democrat Barbara Boxer told her, "You don't know anything about anything. If this is the new GM leadership, it's pretty lacking," she said.

Some of the questioning from senators focused on GM's approval of a replacement for the ignition switch in 2006 without changing the part number. Failing to change the number makes the part harder to track. And anyone investigating the cars wouldn't know why earlier switches were failing at a higher rate than later ones.

Several members of the panel implied that it was done intentionally by someone within the company, and that it could be a criminal violation.