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Hurd Does the 'DD' on Congress

As the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building began to fill last Thursday for the Hewlett-Packard executives and former board members' embarrassing day on Capitol Hill, one of my fellow reporters wondered aloud, "Can you believe how much money the lawyers are making out of all this?"

Another replied, "Thanks to HP, the lawyers are all going to have a very, very merry Christmas."

They earned it, I thought.

Patricia Dunn, the board chairwoman who resigned over HP's spy scandal, and CEO Mark Hurd, the company's current chairman, must have spent some very expensive hours prepping for Congress with their attorneys.

The results were obvious: Dunn and Hurd dodged, ducked and evaded all the big questions, sometimes artfully, sometimes not so much.

From HP's point of view at least, Dunn and Hurd walked away from the hearings with Congress unable to directly link them to who actually ordered the hunt for personal telephone records or was aware of other executives' concerns about potentially illegal spying tactics to root out boardroom leakers and didn't act.

(However, newly released documents from those hearings suggest Hurd may have known as early as July 2005 that the company was seeking telephone records as part of its leak probe.)

The whole thing reminded me of what they call the "dog defense" in Texas.

The DD, as Houston courtroom regulars call it, is an invention of Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, a lawyer much in demand by the Texas rich and famous and otherwise high profile clients.

The Racehorse knows a thing or two about defense tactics.

"Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you," he once explained. "Well, now this is my defense: My dog doesn't bite. And second, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night. And third, I don't believe you really got bit. And fourth, I don't have a dog."

HP followed Haynes' playbook with the DD. As I sat through eight hours of testimony I knew Racehorse, now nearly 80 years old, would be proud of how they broke down their reasoning.

We're Really Nice People

We did it, but, hey, it's not the usual HP way, Hurd told the lawmakers. We won't do it again, he promised. He apologized to all those his company spied on.

Hurd characterized the scandal as an "aberration," stressing, "HP is a company that has consistently earned recognition for our adherence to standards of ethics, privacy and corporate responsibility."

The Lawyers Did It, Not Us!

Time and again, Dunn said the HP legal team assured her all the tactics used in the investigation were perfectly legal.

Dunn's apparent belief in the infallibility of lawyers gave her a lot of cover, if not credibility.

"Reliance on representations from trusted sources is a bedrock concept in board governance for the express reason that directors cannot directly supervise management's actions," she testified.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Even Hurd admitted he was pretty much asleep at the switch while outside contract gumshoes obtained the personal call logs.

"I understand there is also a written report of the investigation addressed to me and others, but unfortunately I did not read it," he said. "I could have, and I should have."

Besides, he said, Dunn was in charge of the investigation.

Ignorance of the Law

Dunn stretched the panel's patience with her insistence she didn't know obtaining someone else's personal telephone records might be against the law, but she stuck with her story.

She said she thought pretexting was a "common investigative technique." Dunn said she thought you could just call up the telephone company and they would turn over someone's personal call logs.

"So you think I can call up as anybody in the public and get your phone records?" Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, asked Dunn.

"I thought a year ago -- I thought six months ago -- that, indeed, you could," she said with a straight face.

"You really believe that? You honestly believed that it was that simple?" An incredulous Walden replied. ""You believed that I could call whoever your carrier is and say, 'I'm Congressman Greg Walden, I'd like Mrs. Dunn's phone records.' You honestly believed that it was that simple?"

She said she did as stifled laughter spread through the hearing room.

We Were Too Busy for Details

Dunn said she ordered the investigation. She admitted that at some point she was aware HP obtained personal calling records.

Yet, when pushed hard, she said, "I do not accept personal responsibility for what happened."

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns was quick to note, "Conspicuous in its absence in your testimony is any degree of contrition."

Then Stearns had his own embarrassing moment, asking Dunn wasn't it time for her resign from the HP board?

"I have done so, sir," she said. "I could do so again, if you like."

The Racehorse is no doubt smiling about all of this.

Roy Mark is Washington D.C. senior editor for Internetnews.com