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The department “made a series of decisions that may have substantially contributed to the accelerated shuttering of thousands of small businesses,” the report concluded.

The state of the U.S. auto industry and the dealers - many of which are large employers and civic contributors in their communities - likely will be a campaign issue this fall. As the Detroit automakers have returned to profitability, Mr. Obama has taken to claiming credit for continuing the bailout that Mr. Bush began.

“On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse,” the president said last month in his State of the Union address. “Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.”

Mr. Obama noted that GM has reclaimed the title from Toyota as the world’s biggest automaker and that the industry has added nearly 160,000 jobs since 2009.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has criticized the auto bailout as “crony capitalism.” He says the administration “wasted a lot of money” by not seeking a managed bankruptcy to let the companies reorganize on their own.

The political sparring extended even to the Super Bowl, where a two-minute Chrysler ad starring Clint Eastwood met with conservative criticism for its upbeat message of economic recovery and for what some said was a subliminal plug for Mr. Obama’s policies.

Mr. Eastwood denied any partisan intent.

“l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” he said in a statement to Fox News. “It was meant to be a message about, just about job growth and the spirit of America.”

But, he added, “If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, I say go for it.”