Whitman says she would take polygraph test to prove she didn't know maid was illegal [Updated]
Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, under fire for employing an undocumented housekeeper, repeated her assertion Thursday that she fired the woman as soon as she learned about her immigration status and said she would take a polygraph test to prove it.
“If it comes to that, absolutely,” she told dozens of journalists at a hastily called press conference at a hotel in Santa Monica. “Absolutely, because we were stunned.”
Whitman’s nine-year employment of Nicandra Diaz Santillan became an issue Wednesday when the woman, along with her attorney, Gloria Allred, held a press conference alleging that Whitman knew for many years that Diaz Santillan was in the country illegally and only fired her in June 2009 because Whitman was running for governor and the housekeeper had become a political liability.
Whitman has said she hired Diaz Santillan through an employment agency that checked the woman’s driver’s license, Social Security number and other documents in the woman’s name, and fired her once Diaz Santillan admitted to her that she was illegal in 2009.
Following Whitman's press conference Thursday, Allred produced a 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration to Whitman's husband that said the Social Security number did not match Diaz Santillan’s name.
Whitman said she had never seen the letter, and suggested that the housekeeper could have intercepted it after receiving notice from the Social Security Administration that there was a problem.
“She may have intercepted the letter, it’s very possible, I have no other explanation,” Whitman said, standing alongside her husband, Dr. Griff Harsh. “Nicky did bring in the mail and sort the mail. If she got a letter two weeks before alerting her to a problem and saying we’re going to alert your employer.... It pains me to say that because, gosh, that’s not the Nicky I knew.”
[Updated at 12:41 p.m.: Whitman repeatedly said neither she nor her husband, who stood by her side at the press conference but did not speak, had any knowledge of a letter. “Neither my husband nor I received any letter from the Social Security Administration.”]
Whitman said allegations that she knew about the housekeeper’s status and fired her because she was running for governor are undercut by the timing -– Whitman announced she was running in February 2009 and fired Diaz Santillan in June of that year.
Once she fired Diaz Santillan, Whitman said she told her senior campaign advisors about the matter but did not disclose it publicly because she did not want to turn the spotlight on the woman, whom she repeatedly described as a member of her “extended family.”
“I was not going to make an example of Nicky,” Whitman said, adding that this situation shows why the United States needs a temporary guest worker program and a reliable electronic method for employers to check the status of employees.
Whitman repeatedly refused to say whether Diaz Santillan should be deported, saying that was a matter for federal immigration authorities, and she acknowledged checking with her attorney to see if there was anything she could do to help legalize the woman. The attorney said no, at which point Whitman fired the housekeeper.
Whitman said she now has one housekeeper who she is certain is legal to work in this country, and employs services for her garden and pool. She said she never had to fire a worker for lying about their status before, though she conceded that she does know the status of a friend of Diaz Santillan’s who filled in for the woman when she took a three-month maternity leave.
Whitman accused the Brown campaign of circulating the matter to reporters, and asked what he would have done differently.
“This is a baseless smear attack and he should be ashamed of himself,” she said, noting that she chose an agency that checked its workers' documentation and insisted on paying taxes and withholding taxes to ensure compliance with the law.
Whitman said she was not surprised by the Service Employees International Union's announcement that they would spend $5 million campaigning for Brown, including launching an ad that highlights that she hired an undocumented worker.
“It’s yet another public employee union funding Jerry Brown’s campaign,” Whitman said. “This is exactly underlining what I was saying during the debate -– if you want someone to go to Sacramento who’s independent, I am your governor because Jerry Brown is so tied at the hip to the public employee unions, he will never be able to make change.”
-- Seema Mehta in Santa Monica
Photo: Meg Whitman during a press conference in Santa Monica on Thursday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times