Inside The HP Case
By Maria Bartiromo
Viet Dinh represents Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist and former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) director who ignited the scandal still burning in Silicon Valley. But he's far more than a rich man's lawyer. Dinh, who came to America in 1978 as a 10-year-old immigrant from Vietnam, is a distinguished legal scholar and former Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Administration. He is generally credited with authoring the controversial USA Patriot Act.
How did you first learn of the spying at HP?
Tom Perkins approached me at a News Corp. (NWS ) dinner and asked me for advice. [Both Perkins and Dinh are on the News Corp. board.] He laid out a rather dramatic tale about how he had just resigned from HP in protest over an investigation that Pattie Dunn had instigated in order to uncover contacts between her directors and reporters. My first reaction was that it was inconceivable for a board chairperson to spy on her directors. Then I said to Tom: "I simply cannot see how this could have been done legally."
In CEO Mark Hurd's first public statement on Sept. 22, he said this board has had a history of leaks. Why is that?
I cannot even begin to understand or portray to you the dysfunctionality of this board. In law there is a phrase called res ipsa loquitur...Latin for "the thing speaks for itself"...The actions of the board over the past several years speak too much about itself, and what [they say] is not very pleasant. The CNET.com article that was supposedly the trigger for all of this intrigue is amazing because it is, if anything...banal, and frankly very favorable to HP. It would have worked to enhance the board rather than detract from it. So for the article to trigger the overreaction of Dunn is perplexing to me. It really is a benign puff piece.
Have you spoken to Hurd since his statement?
I have. And without disclosing the contents of the conversation, I believe him when he says, to the investing community and the company, that he is genuinely contrite about HP's actions, in which I believe he had minimal involvement. I have every confidence, as does Tom Perkins, that Hurd is the right man for HP, especially at this time, because his steady hand will guide this board and the company back to a position of leadership.
Do you have any sense of how widespread snooping on employees or even journalists is in Corporate America?
Not as a general matter, but my phone has been ringing quite steadily since the publicity about HP--matters relating to pretexting and spying on competitors. I don't know how credible these inquiries are, but I think the silver lining to this episode is that everyone in Corporate America is on notice that this type of activity has no place in our country, and least of all in corporate leadership.
You mean rival companies to HP are calling you?
Well, some rival companies, but more so other companies unrelated to HP who think competitors have been spying on them. They also are worried about pretexting their employees.
Given the damage that the scandal has done to HP's reputation, do you think Tom Perkins has any regrets?
No, I think the setback to HP's reputation is temporary. Perkins has been steadfast in saying "this too will pass."
Perkins is gone, Director George Keyworth is gone, Dunn is gone. Will there be more casualties of the scandal?
It is really up to the prosecutors...but I suspect, given the depth of activity and reach of the investigation, some other folks will have to bear some responsibility for their actions.
You're widely considered the chief architect of the Patriot Act. Do you see any irony that you are a voice of outrage over alleged privacy violations at HP?
No. There is a distinct difference between the government using its power of subpoena and search warrants to protect America against security threats and private citizens and companies breaking the law in order to pursue their own interests and personal agendas.
Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell