TODAY   |  March 12, 2014

GM facing criminal inquiry

The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation on General Motors’ handling of an ignition switch problem in some of its most popular cars. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> natalie is following some tough new scrutiny on general motors related to that recall.

>> that's right. a lot of questions this morning what did general motors officials know, when did this it know it and why didn't the car company do anything about it? some of the many questions the justice department has now as it has opened a criminal investigation on gm's handling of that deadly ignition switch problem in some of its most popular cars. nbc's pete williams is in washington, d.c. with the very latest. good morning, pete.

>> reporter: good morning. the justice department will be looking into what gm did after it discovered this potential safety issue. s here the question. did it violate a federal law that requires carmakers to report such problems to the government promptly? gm sent out recall notices last month for more than 1.5 million older model compact cars , including pontiac g 5s and chevy cobalts it said the ignition switches can shut off suddenly while a car is moving. when that happens, the power steering quits working, the brakes are less effective and air bags may not inflate much the problem is suspected in 31 crashes that led to 13 deaths. investigators want to know why gm waited so long after apparently first learning of the potential problem as long as ten years ago. federal safety regulators already looking into the issue.

>> the government not only is demanding documents that would show what gm knew and when, but they are also saying, give us the names of the engineers and the executives that were responsible for this decision.

>> reporter: gm is also conducting its own internal investigation. and now, congress is asking for records from the company and the regulators. gm says it's cooperating, natalie.

>> all right, pete williams in washington, thanks so much.