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The man often known as ``Silent Sam'' Pierce during his eight years in the Reagan Cabinet lived up to his unfortunate nickname in a House subcommittee appearance this week. Mr. Pierce, for eight years secretary of Housing and Urban Development, invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and declined to testify at a hearing into his role as head of HUD.

Even if Pierce had testified, no TV or still photographs of the occasion would have been available. Before Pierce announced his decision during Tuesday's hearing of the Subcommittee on Employment and Housing, he and his lawyers had invoked a little-used rule of the House of Representatives and barred all cameras from the meeting.

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His decision did not surprise subcommittee members. ``We really think,'' Rep. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut said over the weekend, ``that his lawyers feel, and he feels, that it's not in his best interest to appear'' before the group.

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