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Supporters of David Perdue and Michelle Nunn wave signs just before the U.S. Senate debate at the Georgia National Fair on Oct. 7. Photo by Curtis Comptom/AJC. Supporters of David Perdue and Michelle Nunn wave signs just before the U.S. Senate debate at the Georgia National Fair on Oct. 7. Photo by Curtis Comptom/AJC.

Supporters of David Perdue and Michelle Nunn wave signs just before the U.S. Senate debate at the Georgia National Fair on Oct. 7. Photo by Curtis Comptom/AJC.

April Hunt
By April Hunt October 14, 2014

Key context missing in attack on Perdue's job record

A nine-year-old legal document has become a focal point in the highly competitive contest to become Georgia’s next U.S. senator.

Democrat Michelle Nunn has made several attacks and claims against Republican David Perdue based on his blunt statements about outsourcing in a 2005 deposition. Most of the political hay comes from Perdue saying that he "spent most of my career" establishing work and supply lines in foreign countries.

At the Oct. 7 debate, Nunn pounced on something else she found in the 186-page document.

"He talked about 16 countries," Nunn said. "Not once did he talk about creating jobs in the United States."

Since the outcome of the race is expected to help decide control of the Senate, and polls show a potential runoff, the claim called out for a spin on the Truth-O-Meter.

First, some background. The deposition was taken as part of a bankruptcy lawsuit against Pillowtex, a North Carolina textile company that failed shortly after Perdue’s brief tenure as CEO.

Perdue, who was CEO at Dollar General when he was deposed, said his turnaround plan when he joined Pillowtex in 2002 called for a mix of marketing and outsourcing.

High-end products would be made in America, while lower-cost products would be manufactured overseas.

That was the idea, at least, until Perdue and other Pillowtex executives found a large unfunded liability missed when the firm exited its first bankruptcy. Unable to execute his plan, Perdue left after less than a year and the firm eventually collapsed.

The legal interrogation lays out that failure and includes Perdue’s description of various executive jobs where he specialized in outsourcing with firms such as Reebok and Sara Lee.

Asked specifically about his "experience" with outsourcing, Perdue goes on at length about that background.

"I dealt with companies from Japan westward  all the way to Kenya and Lesotho in Africa, Dubai, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, all points west of Japan," Perdue said in part of his answer.

In addition to those 12 countries, Perdue mentions three more and Hong Kong, now part of China. He does not reference the United States.

That’s technically 16 then-nations. So is the case closed?

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Not without an understanding of how a deposition works. For the interrogation, Perdue would have been under oath, sworn to answer honestly the questions posed to him.

A deposition is similar to taking the witness stand, but there is no judge present to referee the questions and answers, said Jill Polster, an Atlanta defense attorney.

That means the attorney of the person being deposed counsels them to be sure to answer only the question posed.

"I tell all of my witnesses, you answer the question that is asked and no more," Polster said. "Witnesses can sometimes talk about whatever they want to talk about, but that would be weird in a deposition. It’s a narrow inquiry."

In Perdue’s case, that narrow focus was, unsurprisingly, on his business successes finding low-cost manufacturing plants and labor.

The line of questioning that led to Perdue to talk about his experience in other countries included: "Can you describe your experience with outsourcing?" "When you joined Reebok, was Reebok outsourcing all of its product to Asia?" and, "At any of your jobs prior to Pillowtex, were you involved at all in building the infrastructure of outsourcing?

In other words, there were no questions about the United States. And the structure of a deposition would not allow for much free form discussion about jobs there, even if Perdue wanted to bring that up.

Derrick Dickey, Perdue’s spokesman, said a careful reading of the deposition could show Perdue was trying to show efforts to save American jobs – not just outsource them – with his turnaround plan for Pillowtex.

Moreover, at the time Perdue was starting work on creating thousands of jobs at Dollar General, through a massive expansion of the discount chain.

But the list of countries doesn’t get into that, Dickey said, because no question was posed for him to answer.

"He was obliged to answer what the attorney was asking about," Dickey said. "It’s disgusting to twist it to say otherwise."

Nunn is accurate to say Perdue lists job creation in 16 countries in his 2005 deposition. The United States isn’t one of them.

But legal experts say it is unfair to focus too much on a missing answer in a deposition, since the real culprit would be a missing question.

Nunn’s claim contains an element of truth but takes it out of context to be misleading.

We rate it Mostly False.

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Key context missing in attack on Perdue's job record

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