At times, the proceedings took a more conciliatory tone than previous hearings.

General Motors executives were back on Capitol Hill on Thursday for another round of testimony before a Congressional subcommittee investigating the company's delays in addressing an ignition-switch defect that killed more than a dozen motorists.

CEO Mary Barra was joined for the first time by GM's chief counsel, Michael Millikin, along with Delphi Automotive CEO Rodney O'Neal and Kenneth Feinberg, a consultant GM has hired to run a victims-compensation fund.

Anton Valukas, who authored a report on GM's decade-long mishandling of the crisis, also testified Thursday before the Senate Consumer Protection subcommittee.

At times, the proceedings took a more conciliatory tone than previous hearings, with lawmakers taking turns praising Barra for her candor and efforts thus far to reverse the company's lax safety culture. But the senators also skewered Millikin and the GM legal department throughout the morning and early afternoon sessions.

Scroll down, and have a look at five key takeaways from the latest round of testimony.


GM Will Not Waive Bankruptcy Shield

In the most significant revelation of the day, Millikin said General Motors would not waive the liability shield provided by the company's 2009 bankruptcy.

Millikin said that General Motors would not waive the liability shield provided by the company's 2009 bankruptcy.

"We will not," he said when asked point-blank about that question by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a frequent critic of GM and its response to the ignition-switch problem, which has been tied to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

Blumenthal then pressed Millikin to unseal records from court cases that resulted in confidential settlements, and he responded again, "We will not." Blumenthal followed by asking Millikin to allow a group of employees fired in the wake of the Valukas report to waive confidentiality requirements that were part of their severance packages, and Millikin again rebuffed the congressman.

The exchange was day's most tense moment, and made it clear that GM's cooperation in aiding various probes of the ignition-switch issue only went so far.

Valukas: Accurate Or Not?

On a related bankruptcy note, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked Barra if she believed the 325-page report compiled by Valukas, which found pervasive "incompetence and neglect," was factual and accurate. She agreed. But that, of course, doesn't mean that General Motors would agree with the report's findings in court.

The attorney-client-privilege answer was reminiscent of GM's response to NHTSA in a death inquiry related to a fatal accident in Texas.

Asked if he would also agree the report was factually accurate, Millikin said, "I'm not familiar with that position in bankruptcy court." Pressed on the question, he later said his reluctance to make such a stipulation was "related to attorney client privilege."

The attorney-client-privilege answer was reminiscent of GM's response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a death inquiry related to a fatal accident in Texas (see picture below) since linked to the ignition-switch flaw.

The New York Times revealed Wednesday that GM cited attorney client privilege in its lack of response to that query. In three other death-inquiry responses, the company simply said, "GM opts not to respond." Based on public documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the report cast further doubt on GM's forthrightness with NHTSA.

Asked about the report during testimony, Millikin said, "It was news to me."



GM Won't Support New Laws

Under the "new" GM, the company has emphasized placing safety at the forefront of its mission in its public-relations efforts. But Thursday, GM officials declined to support to stricter laws that would ostensibly prevent another safety-related fiasco and provide more transparency on traffic-fatality data.

Asked by Blumenthal whether she would support legislation that would criminalize the deliberate concealment of a safety defect, Barra deferred. Asked if she would support legislation that would make more data on fatal accidents available to the public, Barra said that GM supported efforts to make the NHTSA website "more useful" and add a vehicle-identification number database to the bill.

Finally, asked if she would support legislation that would mandate safety concerns being made public before lawsuits are sealed, Barra deferred, saying she would have to understand in greater detail.

Millikin Under Microscope

McCaskill asked Millikin, "I don't understand how you still have your job. ... Can you explain that to me?"

Barra has caught the wrath of Congress in previous hearings. It was Millikin's turn Thursday. Several members of the committee expressed disbelief that he was allowed to keep his job when GM parted ways with at least five members of its legal staff in the fallout of the Valukas report.

At one point, McCaskill asked Millikin, "I don't understand how you still have your job. ... Can you explain that to me?"

Millikin, who has been at General Motors for more than three decades and served as the company's top in-house lawyer since 2009, said he didn't learn about the ignition-switch defect until February 2014. Congressmen were incredulous at that statement.

McCaskill noted GM lawyers working under Millikin knew about the potential risk of punitive damages from a lawsuit in October 2010 and again in July 2011, then in April 2012 outside counsel had warned the GM legal department of potential liability related to the ignition switches. GM's legal department again new in of the possibility of punitive consequences following engineer Ray DeGeorgio's deposition in a Georgia lawsuit taken in April 2013.

"Once again, you were warned," McCaskill told Millikin. "... this is either gross negligence or gross incompetence on the part of a lawyer."



Details Emerge On Compensation Fund

Feinberg, the outside consultant who has run similar compensation funds after disasters like 9/11, the BP oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombings, shed more light on the criteria and rules for prospective claimants.

In an effort to head off a flood of frivolous claims, he said the first criteria for evaluating a potential claim is whether the airbags deployed. If they deployed, the prospective claims are not eligible for these funds.

The fund will begin accepting claims Aug. 1 and receive them through Dec. 31.

Another key question about his fund is how victims of long-ago car crashes might offer proof their accident was caused by an ignition-switch flaw when records or the wreckage itself may be unavailable.

He said his evidence threshold is "a lot less burdensome than if they have to go to court to prove their claim, I'll tell you that." Feinberg said there were a "menu of options" that included police reports, black boxes, insurance reports, warranty and maintenance reports and photographs.

The fund will begin accepting claims August 1 and receive them through December 31. Once a settlement offer has been issued from Feinberg's staff, claimants will have 90 days to decide whether to accept.

That timeframe was a point of contention later in the hearings, because Blumenthal said claimants may want to wait until the outcome of a Department of Justice investigation into GM's criminal liability in the ignition-switch crisis before deciding whether to accept an offer.


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  • 20 Comments
      Car Guy
      • 5 Months Ago
      Millikin needs to go. The failures happened on his watch and he can no longer be a public face left for GM. That said, they can give him his retirement package, bring in someone new, and still keep him around as a consultant for another year or two for the new person.
      Revis Goodworth
      • 5 Months Ago
      Five Key Points NOT Covered Today Point One - Taxpayer bailout funds will be used to pay off the victims - don't think for a minute that Total Recall Motors has sufficient cash reserves earned from making a profit to pay off all the fines and victim claims - since the company is sitting on over $20 billion in taxpayer bailout funds that have not been spent, you can bet that the taxpayer will be covering this company's murder costs. Point Two - Witch Mara did not get her job based upon competence. When this company knew it was going to get soaked for over a decade of dishonesty and murder, had to put a safer and kinder face on the company -having an old incompetent white man would not work to their advantage - just like having a black President can seek to deploy the race bomb when the heat is on, a female CEO was a clever human shield - when the attacks on her would get vicious, she could leverage her gender and illicit sympathy for having breasts and long hair. We've learned that her actual business knowledge is about a thimble full. Point Three - Criminal time for all of the dishonest and murderers - we want to have those who made these decisions locked away and punished - so far there is nothing here that suggests that anyone will actually be held accountable - losing a job here means nothing - some of them will find a job with Robert Lutz somewhere and the others will likely find jobs quite easily. Point Four - The American People are Stupid - Knowing that the company made conscious acts that placed the lives of its owners in jeopardy, you'd have to be utterly stupid to buy a product now from the company. But millions of stupid people have been found - and likely most of them are Obama voters. Point Five - Nothing will change - the company will pay fines and pay civil damages but there will be no systemic changes at Total Recall Motors that will prevent this from happening again - this is a circus - no one is serious because the very same people who are now unhappy with GM are the very same ones that bailed them out - they cannot push too hard or else their complicity in this coverup is discovered - the fact that none of this was known to those who advocated the bailout shows that this was a rush job to save only the UAW and union dues for the Democrat Party, not to save a company or its tax base.
        Mondrell
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Revis Goodworth
        "- losing a job here means nothing - some of them will find a job with Robert Lutz somewhere and the others will likely find jobs quite easily." Oh without question. Rick Wagoner was able to find suitable work fresh off of getting fired faster than many grads I know.
          Larry Litmanen
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Mondrell
          Grads you know need to stop majoring in Sociology and Same Sex Reproductive Health.
          Mondrell
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Mondrell
          Nope. Their issue is that they're not willing to move in order to get their foot in the door of a good employer. The job market for their majors here are such that there are a plethora of people who bring a degree and several years of relevant work experience to their none. That said, middle-level and frontline employees dismissed under circumstances comparable to Wagoner probably would've had to make do with un- or underemployment until employers felt they'd learned their lesson. Add that to the large severences they're eligible to collect for failing, and there's your public stigma against high-level executives.
        cpmanx
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Revis Goodworth
        Walking around with all that ominidirectional rage trapped inside your head cannot possibly be good for your health, or your sanity.
        Skicat
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Revis Goodworth
        Point 4: Sorry, Bonzo. GM sells more cars in Red States than Blue.
      jphyundai
      • 5 Months Ago
      The recall "scandal" is a joke. The cars being recalled were and are far safer than all of the old car "classics" from the 80's and before. We could recall the Model T because of its many safety flaws relative to modern cars. This is a case of politically correct lawmakers and get rich quick trial lawyers teaming up to fleece a profitable car company. Most items in cars today come from common suppliers. Therefore a recall from one car company can apply equally to any number of car companies and is therefore a gold mine for the trial lawyers association.
      dukeisduke
      • 5 Months Ago
      Millikin was is the dark about what was going on in his own legal department? I don't believe that at all. He should have been fired along with the rest.
      OptimusPrimeRib
      • 5 Months Ago
      I find it funny that a member of Congress said I still can't believe you still have your job. Congress has been screwing the country try for year due to their self interests and arrogance.
      cpmanx
      • 5 Months Ago
      The hearing are pure political theater. The only meaningful thing that came out of this is a glimpse into the GM legal strategy. Why the company is keeping any part of its legal team intact--much less the guy at the top--is baffling to me. It's appalling cynicism: Fire the engineers who made the flawed decisions, thinking they were following corporate directives, but keep the lawyers who knowingly covered up the deaths that resulted and allowed the problem to linger. Why? Because the lawyers wield a lot of clout within the corporate power structure, whereas the engineers do not.
        cpmanx
        • 5 Months Ago
        @cpmanx
        So I guess it's not baffling so much as maddening.
      jeanreno
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Are you stupid, or a liar?"-Adam Carolla
      vegasstyleguy
      • 5 Months Ago
      #6 they've got a black guy LOL
      Winnie Jenkems
      • 5 Months Ago
      Mary Barra!
      Bernard
      • 5 Months Ago
      Maybe we need a "Fire Millikin" campaign, just make noise about it on social media. GM will have to respond as they have enough negative press going. I really don't understand why they haven't fired him yet.
      bullitt2605
      • 5 Months Ago
      All Mary is thinking is how much more of this crap do I have to endure before they cut me loose and pay me my millions.
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