As questions about Hewlett-Packard’s third party business associations with Iran during the time Carly Fiorina served as CEO grow more intense around the blogosphere, the wannabe U.S. Senator’s handlers are hunkering down further in that’s-our-story-and-we’re-sticking-to-it mode.
As all good Calbuzzers know, the Mercury News kicked off this controversy by reporting that HP used a Mideast distributor called Redington Gulf to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of copiers and other products to Iran during Fiorina’s tenure.
With Iran topping the U.S. government’s Axis of Evil/Don’t Patronize list, her nascent campaign staff has repeatedly insisted that the candidate was and is “unaware of any sales to Iran during her time at the company.” Which raises a crucial question: Huh?
It’s hard to imagine how Fiorina would not have known about HP’s Redington dealings, given that the activities of the company and its distributor were widely covered in the business press between 1999-2005, when she was CEO. For example, Forbes magazine ran a story called “Trading with the Enemy” in 2004, that described the “open secret” of how U.S. companies handled transactions with Iran:
“Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft, among many other U.S. companies, keep Dubai offices and are favorites these days among Iranian traders in Dubai. Reason? Strong demand for ‘anything high-tech for military or oil services,’ says [Abbas] Bolurfrushan of the Iranian Business Council.
“The open secret is that Dubai buys far more than it keeps. More than a quarter of its $23 billion in annual non-oil imports are re-exported, and Iran gets the biggest share. Interviews with private businesspeople and U.S. officials, along with court documents, reveal a simple scheme. Companies located around the world sell goods — from cigarettes to medical devices and PCs — to buyers in the U.A.E. Dubai traders repackage the items and send them along by air or ship to agents in, say, Tehran, Pyongyang, Damascus or Islamabad….”
(Slight digression: During Fiorina’s CEO stint, Forbes ran more than 50 articles about her — you could look it up. You don’t think Hurricane Carly only read the stories about herself, do you?)
The latest Tehran Carly-type shot across the bow came when right-wing blogger and SacTown talk show host Eric Hogue offered a critical look at the controversy from a conservative perspective that framed the question nicely:
“Although the distributors are separate from HP in operations, there is still the availability for leverage; if HP knew that these distributors were selling to Iran they could have added pressure to encourage them to cease. The issue is whether HP cared enough to find out…
“The question is not whether HP sold printers to Iran through regional distributors, it seems to be whether the HP CEO had the knowledge that it was taking place. Which leads those critical of Carly Fiorina to ask, “How can the CEO not know if her company is violating a US Trade Embargo?”
In his piece, Hogue quoted Fiorina spokeswoman Beth Miller on the candidate’s alleged ignorance about the HP’s distributor dealings by saying: “When I mentioned this to Carly she was shocked, upset and totally caught off-guard.”
When Calbuzz first read that quote, it seemed to suggest strongly that Fiorina was saying she had no knowledge of the Redington-Iran connection until it recently surfaced in the media, years after she left HP.
But when we asked Miller about it, she said that wasn’t what she meant. She said Fiorina was “shocked, upset and totally caught off-guard” by the premise of Hogue’s question — that HP broke the law and violated U.S. trade sanctions — rather than by the reports about HP, Redington and Iran.
Which begged the question: Does Fiorina’s hear-no-evil, see-no-evil stance on the issue mean that she specifically denies any knowledge of Redington Iranian sales of HP products when she was CEO?
“HP never broke the law and never violated any sanctions,” under Fiorina’s leadership, Miller told us. “There’s never been such an allegation anywhere but the blogosphere,” adding that any such allegation is “wrong and unfounded.”
But what about Redington and its business relationship with HP?
“We’re not going to go into this” further, Miller said.
All righty then.
To be fair, Miller’s point that the U.S. government has never taken any action against HP on Iran is well-taken, perhaps even determinative, on the legal front.
As a political matter, however, the perception that Fiorina’s company may have used the Dubai “open secret” to skirt the spirit, if not the letter, of a trade ban against what the U.S. considered a terrorist nation, places her squarely in the free-fire zone between conservative primary foe Chuck DeVore and liberal incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, both of whom may quite reasonably ask: What did Fiorina know and when did she know it?
Anyway you cut it, the HP-Iran connection looks to us like a big ole’ looming briar patch sitting right at the starting gate of iCarly’s race for the GOP Senate nomination. She’d be better off getting past it sooner rather than later.