"What did Meg Whitman know and when did she know it?" publicity hound attorney Gloria Allred asked Wednesday. It was a savvy close to a press conference at which client Nicandra Diaz-Santillan, who worked as a housekeeper for Whitman, alleged that Whitman knew that she was an illegal immigrant, then fired her in 2009 as she prepared to run for California governor.
Turns out, there are reasons to believe that Whitman did not know that Diaz was illegal when she hired her in 2000.
The campaign released copies of the Social Security card and immigration eligibility verification form presented by Diaz when she was hired. By Allred's account, these documents are phony. Having exhibited a willingness to fake legal status, the housekeeper's credibility is damaged.
I've known smart people who thought they were following the law in demanding documentation, only to find out later that they were duped.
In this case, Diaz also presented a driver's license. DMV spokesperson Jan Mendoza tells me, "It was a valid driver's license." California did not require proof of legal residence until 1994. Diaz got her first license in 1991.
To any voter who ever has hired a nanny, gardener or housecleaner, this would appear to be due diligence -- especially for a 15-hour-per-week job that, according to Diaz, paid $23 per hour.
This story goes to the heart of the dilemma that faces Californians who welcome legal immigrants, but also believe in respecting federal law. What was Whitman supposed to do, not trust Diaz because she has an accent?
Allred repeated Whitman's assertion during Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate: "We do have to hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers. And we do have to enforce that law."
That's why, Whitman says, she fired Diaz when she realized she was illegal.
At the press conference, Diaz complained that she felt as if, after nine years' service, Whitman "was throwing me away like a piece of garbage."
Whitman called firing Diaz "one of the hardest things I've ever done."
What proof does Allred have that Whitman knew? Allred alleges that the Social Security Administration sent a letter informing the Whitman household that their housekeeper's Social Security number did not match her name.
Whitman and her husband deny having seen such a letter. So far, Allred has failed to produce it.
"If Ms. Whitman would like to dispute our claims of what she knew and when she knew it, then she should be prepared for the release of evidence," Allred said. And you thought the burden was on the accuser.
"This entire political circus is targeted at one demographic," said Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds. "New polling numbers show that Jerry Brown is nearly losing in the Latino community. This is a political play."
Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford released a statement that hit Whitman for showing "that she thinks the rules don't apply to her. After more than a year of Whitman demanding immigration policy that 'holds employers accountable,' we learn that accountability doesn't extend to her own actions."
Without proof that Whitman knew about Diaz, that's a cheap unsubstantiated shot from the Brown camp.