When it comes to Iran, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has cast herself as a tough-on-Tehran hawk. But as the Republican presidential candidate gains momentum, questions over the technology company’s past dealings with the Middle Eastern country -- when Fiorina was at the helm -- could come back to haunt her.
Despite a trade ban with Iran, HP reportedly used a Dubai-based subsidiary beginning in 1997 to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of products to the country. In fact, by 2007, HP printers made up 41% of the total market share in Iran. The story was first reported by the Boston Globe in 2008 and became a thorn in Fiorina's side when she challenged Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California in 2010.
Boxer brought up the issue to msnbc on Wednesday night just before the debate. “What’s incredible is when she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, they were actually selling printers to Iran and there was an executive order that said no. And the [Securities and Exchange Commission] caught them. So she’s got so many problems. I say if the Republicans choose her, we’ll walk into the presidency.”
Team Fiorina did not return requests for comment. But during the 2010 Senate race, her spokesperson said that “to her knowledge, during her tenure HP never did business in Iran and fully complied with all U.S. sanctions and laws.”
Still, HP’s previous actions stand in stark contrast to Fiorina’s current hardline rhetoric against Iran on the campaign trail. During Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate, for example, Fiorina declared that on her first day in office she’ll call the country’s religious leader, Ali Khamenei, to tell him the country must open its nuclear facilities to U.S. inspectors or else America “will make it as difficult as possible for Iran to move money around, so that every ally and adversary knows the U.S is back in the leadership business.”
In July, she told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, “And while [Khamenei] may not take the phone call, he will get the message. And the message is I don’t care what the deal is. New deal.”
In general, Fiorina has had to defend her controversial record as CEO of HP from 1999 to 2005, with the company cutting tens of thousands of jobs during her tenure and the Republican eventually getting fired in 2005.
Fiorina—who sparred with Trump over who had the worst business record—acknowledged during the debate, “Yes, we had to make tough choices. In doing so, we saved 80,000 jobs, went on to grow 160,000 jobs ... We went from lagging behind to leading.” She also pointed out that she has since landed the endorsement of an ex-HP board member who said the company was wrong to fire her.
The candidate—who did well enough at last month’s undercard debate to make the main stage on Wednesday night in California, where she also stood out among the crowded field—was asked on NBC’s “Today” on Thursday morning how she can assure Americans she’s a winner despite getting fired from HP.
“Well, you know, when you lead you challenge the status quo, which is what the American people want now,” Fiorina said. “And you make enemies when you challenge the status quo, and I made some.”