Subpoenaed Toyota documents cause partisan rift on House Oversight committee
You may remember last Friday that House Oversight and Government Reform committee chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) accused Toyota of improperly withholding documents that would have allowed liability lawsuits against the company to go forward. The accusations, based on documents subpoenaed from a former top Toyota lawyer-turned-whistleblower, included references to Toyota's secret and ominous-sounding "Books of Knowledge" that contained trade secrets.
The accusations came in a letter from Towns to Toyota North America president Yoshimi Inaba.
Well, moments ago, the Republican minority of the committee, led by ranking member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) delivered a letter to Towns saying that those accusations contained "factual misrepresentations" about the documents and that Issa and the Republican minority should have been consulted before Towns wrote his letter.
Stronger still, the letter may undercut the credibility of the Toyota whistleblower, Dimitrios Biller, who claims his documents show that Toyota did the wrong thing while handling lawsuits from people who had been injured in accidents involving Toyota vehicles.
This letter from Issa to Towns represents the first visible rift in the committee's grilling of Toyota on its recall issue. Issa told me in an interview last week that he enjoys working with Towns and that "has kept his word to me." This rift could strain relations between the committee's two leaders and its two sides.
In the letter to Towns, Issa writes that a Texas lawyer had examined BIller's documents last year in connection to 17 cases he had reopened based on the documents. "I did not see any pattern of concealment, destruction or pattern of discovery abuse," wrote the lawyer, E. Todd Tracy. "I believe Biller, in his own mind, probably thinks something's there. But the documents just don't support it."
Issa writes: "We have not identified an individual instance in the Biller documents...where Toyota flouted its discovery obligations. This contradicts the understanding of the situation expressed in the Towns" accusations.
Issa also accuses Towns of inserting language into one of the documents to change the meaning and make Toyota look bad.
In his conclusion to Towns Issa writes: "Based on staff review and analysis of the documents made available to the committee as a result of the subpoena issued Feb. 18, 2010, the letter sent by Chairman Towns to Yoshimi Inaba is not based on a fair reading of the evidence. In fact, Chairman Town's [sic] letter frequently misquotes and mischaracterizes the underlying material, in one extreme case, actually altering the subject of the underlying document."
I'll update this with Towns' response, when it comes out.
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March 2, 2010; 6:25 PM ET
Categories: Autos , Congress , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Darrell Issa, Ed Towns, Toyota problems, toyota, toyota congressional hearings
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