The Department of Justice is investigating whether the legal department of General Motors Co. concealed evidence from safety regulators about defective ignition switches that have been linked to at least 13 deaths and more than 50 crashes.
General Motors confirmed the investigation and said it was cooperating with authorities.
Several other inquiries may also examine whether members of GM's legal team hid information about problems with 2.6 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars from safety officials and higher management at the automaker.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Congress also are looking into why GM delayed recalling the vehicles until earlier this year even though some of its employees knew about the problem for at least a decade.
"We are cooperating fully with the Department of Justice in their investigation," GM said in a statement Friday. "Our own internal investigation found that individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information and the company operated in silos. We have made significant changes to our structure so that will not happen again."
A GM-commissioned report prepared by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas blamed poor communication and incompetence for the automaker's failure to recall the cars with faulty switches until this year.
But that explanation has met with skepticism from some involved in the probes.
"I find it hard to believe that, out of 210,000 employees, not a single one stood up and said, 'I think we are making a mistake here,' " Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said at a congressional hearing on the issue in June.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., whose district was home to one of the crash victims, called the Valukas report "a big cover-up."
After Valukas released his report, GM fired 15 people. Five additional GM employees were disciplined. The automaker has apologized for not recalling the vehicles sooner. It also has set up a compensation fund for victims of crashes caused by the faulty switches and their survivors.