Is Linda Chavez Lying?

“She has a history of taking people in,” Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer said this morning about Linda Chavez, the Bush administration’s nominee for labor secretary. Fleischer meant “providing shelter,” but Chatterbox wonders whether the more appropriate gloss might be “telling whoppers.” The occasion for this ungenerous speculation is Chavez’s claim that Marta Mercado, the illegal immigrant from Guatemala whom Chavez housed in the early 1990s, was not her servant. Writing in the Jan. 8 Wall Street Journal, John Harwood, Phil Kuntz, and Kathy Chen elaborate:

The former Reagan administration civil-rights official acknowledges, according to a spokesman, that in the early 1990s she housed a Guatemalan woman who “did some chores” and received “spending money” of as much as a “couple of thousand” dollars. But Ms. Chavez says she was merely helping an immigrant who was “down on her luck” rather than employing her, so there was no need to pay Social Security taxes, according to Tucker Eskew, a spokesman for President-elect George W. Bush’s transition team.He said Ms. Chavez remembers the situation lasting for about a year, while the Guatemalan woman says it lasted about two years.

Chatterbox doesn’t want to make too much out of Chavez’s apparent inability to remember that Mercado lived in her house for two years, not one. Her memory may just be faulty about that. But when somebody performs work for you over an extended period of time and in return receives thousands of dollars and free room and board, that’s “labor.” It’s reasonable to expect that someone chosen to be the next secretary of labor should grasp this economic concept. If she can’t, she isn’t qualified for the job. If she can but pretends she can’t, then she’s lying. Under slightly different circumstances, Chavez, who writes a syndicated column, would probably make this latter point herself. “Never believe any categorical denial of wrongdoing on first utterance,” Chavez advised in a March 4, 1998, column, “since it’s likely to be revised with clarifications, qualifications or obfuscations within days if not hours.”

Photograph of Linda Chavez on theSlateTable of Contents by Jeff Mitchell/Reuters.