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U.S. SENATE : Controversy Over Hiring of Immigrant : Huffington claims he has independently verified that Feinstein used an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in the early 1980s. INS officials say they have no proof of such actions.

November 04, 1994|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and DAVE LESHER and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A new controversy over illegal immigration engulfed the U.S. Senate race Thursday as GOP candidate Mike Huffington seized on a disputed and unverified news report claiming that Sen. Dianne Feinstein hired an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in the early 1980s.

By late Thursday, the striking San Francisco newspaper reporters responsible for the initial story said they were revising it because they had received incomplete information from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. INS officials also said they had no proof that Feinstein had employed an illegal immigrant and were rechecking their records.

But Huffington's campaign, which has been battered by his admission that he employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny until last year, said it had independently verified the report. The campaign immediately began airing a 30-second television commercial accusing Feinstein of lying. At least two of the contentions in the ad were apparently untrue.

In a crowded news conference in San Francisco, Feinstein told reporters that she had employed a Guatemalan woman, but the woman had provided documentation showing that she was in the country legally. Feinstein pointed out that in any case, the woman worked for her years before a 1986 federal law made the employment of illegal immigrants a crime.

Asked if she believes the woman was in the country illegally, Feinstein told reporters: "No, and I don't believe she was . . . based on documentation that I saw when she came in. . . . I was a new mayor. I was not going to hire someone who was here illegally. She presented work documentation to me and I hired her."

Throughout the day there was continuing uncertainty about the housekeeper's legal status, with Feinstein saying she was legally in the country and Republican challenger Huffington insisting otherwise. The first report about the housekeeper was prepared Thursday morning by striking San Francisco newspaper reporters and sent out over the Internet computer network.

But by the end of the day, Pamela Burdman, one of the two striking San Francisco Chronicle reporters who wrote the story, said the paper was revising the story for a strike edition "based on the fact that we now know the information from the INS is incomplete."

In a Century City news conference earlier, Huffington accused Feinstein of deception and an attempted cover-up.

"She is a liar. And she is a hypocrite. And she has purposefully and blatantly attempted to mislead you and the people of California. She is unworthy to serve in the United States Senate," Huffington told reporters.

The day's furor erupted one week after the Santa Barbara congressman acknowledged that he and his wife had hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny for more than four years, beginning in 1989--well after federal immigration law made such hiring a crime.

At his conference Thursday, Huffington refused to concede that he broke the law and Feinstein did not. "There may have been different laws. You will have to have lawyers look at that. . . . She may well have (broken the law) but you'll have to ask your lawyers."

Asked in another way, he suggested that reporters are working on Feinstein's behalf. "I already had my discussion. I am talking about Mrs. Feinstein . . . I have talked about my case. I want to talk about her lying and I think it's about time you print it, unless you are part of her campaign also."

Late Thursday, Huffington campaign officials insisted that their account was accurate. They said the woman who worked with Feinstein provided them with her immigration case number and that a source in the INS matched it to the record of an amnesty applicant who was in the country illegally in 1981 and 1982.

The Huffington television ad said the INS had confirmed that the woman was an illegal immigrant; it also said that the Associated Press had proven Feinstein lied. INS officials late Thursday said they could make no such confirmation and AP challenged the accuracy of the ad. "No AP story has said Feinstein lied about this, let alone proved that she lied," said AP's San Francisco bureau chief Dan Day.

"I have sent the Huffington campaign a fax pointing out that we take issue with their description of our reporting."

Huffington's campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Grossman said: "We are standing by the ad. Mrs. Feinstein lied. Everyone knows she lied."

But Feinstein's campaign manager said the ad should be withdrawn. "I think the Huffington campaign should pull their ad and wait until this is all sorted out," he said.

Feinstein on Thursday drove home the distinctions between Huffington's action and her own. Most notably, she said, she hired the woman only after asking for documentation and employed the woman years before the federal law was enacted.

Unlike Huffington, Feinstein opposes Proposition 187, the ballot measure that would deny health and education services to illegal immigrants.

The political impact of Thursday's events was unclear.

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