A former HUD official invoked his constitutional rights and refused to testify before a House panel today as it reopened its investigation into alleged widespread abuses in federal housing programs.
James Hamernick, former director of the office of insured multifamily housing, became the fifth former official of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to refuse to testify before congressional investigators.
Hamernick cited Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination in refusing to testify.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on housing, said he had decided to resume a HUD probe despite Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh's decision Thursday to seek appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate former Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. and other former top housing officials. That appointment by a federal court is now automatic under the law.
Pierce is among the other former officials from the Ronald Reagan Administration who have refused to testify.
"As has happened in the past, most notably in the Watergate investigation . . . and the Iran-Contra investigation . . . there is occasionally a compelling need for simultaneous parallel investigations by Congress and by law enforcement," Lantos said, explaining his decision to proceed further after holding more than 20 hearings last year.
"The subcommittee is duty-bound to proceed with its investigation of abuses at HUD," he said. "This is particularly true since in recent weeks the subcommittee staff has uncovered a good deal of relevant new information."
He declined to say what that information is.
Hamernick refused to answer when Lantos asked him what HUD programs he discussed when he was entertained by Lance Wilson, a former top aide to Pierce who later became a housing consultant with the Wall Street firm of Paine Webber. Wilson reported spending more than $2,000 in that job on meals and other entertainment for Hamernick in expense accounts filed with his employer.