Calif. Candidate Whitman, Former Housekeeper Trade More Accusations

BY Joanne Elgart Jennings  September 30, 2010 at 7:09 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO | Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor of California, can’t seem to shake charges that she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant in her home as a housekeeper and nanny for nine years.

In a second day of dueling news conferences here in California, both sides continued to trade accusations. Whitman, speaking in Santa Monica, again said she and her husband, who was standing by her side, never knew their housekeeper was undocumented. She said Nicandra Diaz Santillan was being “manipulated” for political gain and blamed her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown and celebrity attorney Gloria Allred for a “smear campaign” of “lies.”

“I absolutely think this is linked to the Brown campaign, 100 percent,” she said.

Allred, who has been a longtime supporter of Democratic causes, denied the allegation and said she hasn’t been in communication with Brown for years. In a news conference in her Beverly Hills office, Allred presented a copy of a 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration addressed to Whitman and her husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, informing of a “mismatch.”

Allred said, “The letter indicated that the Social Security number provided to the employer … did not match Nicky’s name.”

On the letter is a handwritten note “Nicky, please check this. Thanks.” Allred and Diaz Santillan claim the note was written and signed by Harsh – and that he and Whitman knew they were employing an undocumented worker.

Hours earlier, Whitman again asserted that she never saw any such letter and alluded to possible foul play on the part of Diaz Santillan, who allegedly sorted the Whitman family’s mail. “She might have been on the lookout for that letter.”

Whitman also said she’d be willing to take a polygraph test.

But, in a letter released late this afternoon by the Whitman campaign, Harsh wrote, “While I honestly do not recall receiving this letter as it was sent to me seven years ago, I can say it is possible that I would’ve scratched a follow-up note on a letter like this, which is a request for information to make certain Nicky received her Social Security benefits and W-2 tax refund for withheld wages. Since we believed her to be legal, I would have had no reason to suspect that she would not have filled it in and done what was needed to secure her benefits.

Today, the Service Employees International Union California released a new TV ad, “Nueve Anos,” asserting that Whitman has “insulted Latinos with double talk.” The ad will begin airing on Spanish-language stations in Fresno and Los Angeles on Saturday, the same day the two gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to square off in a Spanish-language debate.

A coalition of labor and Democratic organizations is also planning a major demonstration in Fresno on Saturday.

In a conference call with journalists, Whitman campaign senior adviser Rob Stutsman pointed to the fact that the ads were already produced Thursday as evidence of “dirty smear politics coordinated by Brown Inc.” and the labor unions who support him.

Meanwhile, Whitman is also being slammed from the right by conservatives who question her for not turning Diaz Santillan over to immigration authorities once her illegal status was revealed. The Americans for Legal Immigration, who had previously endorsed Whitman’s candidacy for governor, are now calling for her arrest.

In a statement released Thursday, organization President William Gheen wrote, “We need equal justice for both the illegal alien and the employer.”

In Thursday’s news conference, Whitman said she didn’t report Santillan to immigration authorities because she wasn’t legally obliged to as the employer of a domestic worker.

As the drama continues to unfold on celebrity websites, mainstream media and Spanish-language networks, the political fallout is still unclear, but one thing is certain, the Whitman campaign is desperately trying to focus attention back on California’s economic problems.

She did just that when asked Wednesday by The PBS NewsHour about how this scandal might play with Latinos, who make up 36 percent of California’s population and 14 percent of the state’s electorate. Watch a portion of that interview, which was taped for an upcoming NewsHour segment on California’s gubernatorial race: