WASHINGTON — The top aide to former Housing Secretary Samuel Pierce invoked her Fifth Amendment rights today and refused to answer questions from a House subcommittee investigating a growing housing scandal.
Deborah Gore Dean, former executive assistant to Pierce, who headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development for all eight years of the Reagan Administration, appeared under subpoena before the House Government Operations Housing Subcommittee.
The panel has been investigating influence peddling in the awarding of low-income housing contracts and Dean has emerged as the key decision-maker in deciding which developers--often aided by high-priced Republican consultants, including former Interior Secretary James Watt--won HUD contracts for a rent-subsidy program.
'Favoritism and Abuse'
Current HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, who also is looking into alleged abuses under Pierce, has said the program appeared to be "based on the perception and reality of favoritism and abuse."
A HUD inspector general's report found that developers who hired GOP consultants often won the competition for scarce housing contract dollars, while those not using Republican consultants often lost out.
Accompanied by two lawyers, including Joseph diGenova, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Dean cited the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions today.
She said she was unable to respond because HUD documents she said she needs have not yet been made available to her.
"In view of my present inability to obtain access to the HUD records which would enable me to prepare adequately for testimony that would be complete and truthful, I have accepted the advice of my counsel to decline, respectfully, to answer any questions posed by the subcommittee at this time on the basis of the rights guaranteed to me by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," Dean said.
Declined to Reply
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) tried asking Dean questions that involved no self-incrimination, such as the date she began working at HUD, but she declined to reply, citing the advice of her lawyers.
Dean's stance bothered Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said Dean's request for HUD documents was so long--all of Pierce's telephone logs, diaries and other records--that it might never be complied with.
Schumer wondered aloud whether the document request was "simply a gigantic roadblock thrown in the way of this hearing."
But Lantos said he had "no reason to assume that Ms. Dean is attempting to permanently delay" the investigation.
Pierce testified before the panel last month and denied any impropriety. Watt, testifying last Friday, denied the $300,000 he and associates got for helping a Maryland developer win approval of a housing project was improper influence peddling.
Dean was quoted in the Wall Street Journal last month as saying the program in question "was set up and designed to be a political program" and "we ran it in a political manner." She also denied impropriety.