Another former Obama administration figure pleads the 5th

Ex-VA official won’t answer Congress’ questions on lavish conferences

In an increasingly familiar scene, a high-ranking former agency official went to Capitol Hill and pleaded the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday.

This time, it was a former assistant secretary at the Department of Veteran Affairs who refused to testify to a House panel investigating a pair of agency conferences in Florida in 2011 criticized for lavish spending.

John Sepulveda oversaw the pair of human resources training conferences that cost more than $6 million combined, drawing comparisons to an infamous 2010 General Services Administration conference scandal that drew taxpayer ire.

“It’s a privilege to remain silent, sir,” Mr. Sepulveda told House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican.

His refusal to answer questions comes months after two other officials appeared before Congress and pleaded the Fifth Amendment in unrelated scandals.



In June, Greg Rosemen, a deputy director at the IRS, refused to talk about his role in awarding contracts worth up to $500 million to a company owned by a friend whose business received veteran set-aside contract status based on a decades-old football injury.

A month earlier, Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax exempt division, declined to discuss the IRS scrutinizing nonprofit applications from tea party and other conservative groups.

Mr. Sepulveda also refused to basic questions about his job status. Nor would he say if he was receiving full retirement benefits.

Mr. Sepulveda, you’re no longer an employee of the VA, is that correct?” Mr. Issa asked.

“On the advice of my counsel I respectfully decline to answer based on my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege,” the former VA official replied.

Mr. Sepulveda was called to testify after a House investigative report — which followed an earlier review from the VA’s Office of Inspector General — found VA planners treated trips to scout out potential conference locations as little more than taxpayer-subsidized vacations.

The planners took thousands of dollars in meals, spas, gift baskets and limo and helicopter rides from hotels hoping to host the VA’s lavish conference business, according to the report.

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