Former Pierce Top Aide Refuses to Answer ‘Substantive’ Questions
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former top assistant to onetime Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. cited his Fifth Amendment rights today in refusing to answer ″substantive″ questions by a congressional panel about the scandals at HUD.
Lance Wilson, once Pierce’s executive assistant, appeared under subpoena but refused to answer most questions.
That means Pierce and his two closest aides at HUD - Wilson and his successor as executive assistant, Deborah Gore Dean - have all refused to respond to questions by the House subcommittee probing allegations of influence-peddling, fraud and mismanagement at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Wilson read a brief statement saying ″statements made by the subcommittee members ... convinced me the subcommittee had already prejudged me″ and identified him as ″a prime candidate for a criminal investigation.″
Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., then posed a series of four questions to Wilson, who refused to answer each one.
Although Wilson said he would answer no ″substantive″ questions, he later responded to two questions put to him by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
Shays asked if the HUD inspector general, who earlier this year released a report finding widespread problems in the department’s moderate rehabilitation housing subsidy program, had sought to talk to him about that program, and if Wilson had done so.
Wilson responded that he had been asked to meet with the inspector general, but did not do so. Asked to explain why he did not meet with the inspector general, Wilson refused to answer.
Outside the courtroom, Wilson’s attorney Raymond Banoun charged that members of the subcommittee were trying to ″grandstand″ and had spent much of the meeting ″ridiculing someone for exercising his rights.″
″They don’t want to know the truth,″ Banoun said.
As Pierce had done a day earlier, Wilson used a House rule to bar television, radio and photographic coverage of his appearance.
The panel also planned today to question Donald Maron, chief executive officer of Paine Webber, about the company’s dealings with HUD. Wilson went to work for Paine Webber after leaving HUD and helped the company obtain HUD business.
Pierce, in a dramatic session Tuesday, appeared under order of subpoena before the House Government Operations subcommittee on employment and housing.
Lantos and other committee members responded today to Pierce’s charge that he had been ″prejudged″ by the panel.
Lantos said the panel has not prejudged Pierce’s potential criminal culpability but had reached a judgment about his tenure as secretary of HUD for eight years.
″He was a miserable secretary of HUD,″ Lantos said. ″... The record of HUD is clear. It’s there for all to see.″
Rep. Bruce Morrison, D-Conn., called for a grand jury investigation of the top-level HUD activities during Pierce’s administration. He said the Justice Department should ″view this not just as a case of mismanagement and mistaken judgment at the highest levels of HUD, but an instance in which white-collar crime may well have occurred.″
Despite congressional protests that he was throwing up roadblocks in their investigation, Pierce read a brief statement saying he had not had time to prepare, did not have the HUD documents he needed and would invoke his constitutional right not to testify.
″The subcommittee’s desire to rush me through this process, together with various statements made by members ... leads me to the painful conclusion that I hae been prejudged by this body,″ Pierce said.
″Under these circumstances, my counsel has advised me and I have agreed to assert my constitutional rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments by refusing to answer questions before this subcommittee,″ he said. ″I trust this subcommittee will remember that these rights are intended as shields for the innocent and that they do not create any inference or presumption of wrongdoing.″
Paul L. Perito, his attorney, said Pierce might be ready to testify on Oct. 27, the next date he has been ordered before the panel. But outside the committee room, Perito told reporters the subcommittee wouldn’t give Pierce a fair hearing.
″They want to try, convict and sentence him, and we will not let that occur,″ Perito said. ″This man is an innocent man.″
Wilson’s appearance under subpoena follows his refusal to appear Aug. 18 before the panel and his refusal to comply with its subpoena demanding records of his dealings with HUD after leaving government.
After leaving the agency, Wilson invested in several projects that received lucrative subsidies from HUD and helped his employer, Paine Webber, obtain business with HUD.
Banoun said a report by Paine Webber attorneys who questioned Wilson concluded ″there was nothing improper in his conduct or in matters related between Paine Webber and HUD.″
Dean, Wilson’s successor as Pierce’s executive assistant, appeared before Congress in May but refused to answer questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment rights as well.