UPDATE: President Donald Trump’s Housing Secretary Ben Carson may have not been honest when he claimed through a spokesperson that he hadn’t had much involvement in spending $31,000 in taxpayer money to buy the agency new dining room furniture.
CNN reports that recently-surfaced emails show that both the secretary and his wife, Candy Carson, may have been directly involved in making the decision that ultimately led to the very expensive purchase.
The emails were released after American Oversight, a watchdog organization that was launched in 2017 with the goal of keeping tabs on the Trump organization, filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
In the emails, an administration staffer sends a message to Carson’s assistant with the subject line that reads “Secretary's dining room set needed.” In the email, the “printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out” are mentioned.
The discussions contained in the email dated back to May 2017 when aides to the secretary asked about having the existing dining set repaired.
"Could you all get the dining room chairs tighten up," the aide wrote. "Most of them are loose and wiggling."
Another aide wrote that she didn’t want to see “someone having an accident (and embarrassment!) should the chair collapse beneath them” because of the “fairly precarious” condition of the furniture. But after receiving a $1,100 repair estimate, they decided to let a designer do all the work after Carson was told the agency had a $25,000 budget that needed to be used before Aug. 21 or it would be lost.
In an email to Carson’s wife, an HUD scheduler told her that a designer would be available between the Aug. 15 and 17, and asked if she wanted to “come in and have input on the redecorating.”
Carson’s wife never replied to the emails, but in a statement from Carson, he acknowledged that they had to make a decision about the $25,000 and how to spend it quickly.
After the $24,666 quote was sent to Carson’s chief of staff, CNN noted that this shows that the purchase wasn’t just made by the staff, but that Carson himself made the final decision.
Still, a spokesperson for the agency, Raffi Williams, initially denied that either of the Carsons were involved, saying only that “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.”
Thankfully, we now have the actual emails to prove that Carson’s office just lied to the press.
The Department for Housing and Urban Development may not have the budget to fund the housing programs for the poor and elderly, but it certainly has enough money to give a lavish makeover to the office occupied by the agency head.
As the New York Times revealed in its latest report, HUD Secretary Ben Carson spent a whopping $31,561 on dining room set for his office. The extravagant room décor included a custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch, apparently on the insistence of Carson’s wife, Candy.
The department is also reportedly planning to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its headquarters.
The news of the generous purchase comes just as the White House called for $8.8 billion budget cut for the department, which would greatly affect the homeless across the United States.
Speaking to The New York Times, HUD Communications Director Raffi Williams said the secretary, who once promised to “monitor where every penny goes,” was not aware of the request for the new furniture but added Carson would not be returning it because he doesn’t think it’s too expensive — because he is not paying for it out of his own pocket, right?
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” Williams told the publication.
He also clarified the congressional appropriations committees did not know about the purchase as the department never sought approval, even though government agencies are legally required to do so for expenditures exceeding $5,000.
The spokesperson’s excuse: The furniture was supposed to serve a “building-wide need” — even though it was only meant for Carson’s office.
Apparently, before buying the costly dining set, Williams said the department tried to repair the furniture the department had in its storage for years to avoid additional expense. In fact, as the ABC News reported after reviewing federal documents, HUD did spend $1,100 to fix the chairs before giving up.
The department also bought new blinds worth $3,400 for Carson's office.
What is even more disturbing, a senior HUD employee claimed she was demoted after she expressed concerns over the office renovation cost and refused to help Caron break the law by allocating fund for the furniture.
Helen Foster, HUD’s former chief administrative officer, said shortly before Carson took office, Interim Secretary Craig Clemmensen told her to secure money to redecorate the former Republican presidential candidate’s office. When she objected on the cost, she was reportedly told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
However, when Foster refused to comply, she said she was demoted and made head of the department’s unit overseeing Freedom of Information Act requests.
Here’s what social media users had to say about Carson’s extravagant expenditures.
What's the better use of $31,000?— Brian Krassenstein🐬 (@krassenstein) February 28, 2018
a) Feed 17 homeless veterans for an entire year.
b) Buy a dining room table set for Ben Carson's office
We all now know which one the Trump administration chose.
*spends $31,561 of taxpayer money on a table*— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) February 27, 2018
*is made aware that the New York Times is writing a story about this table*
*defends its purchase and chooses not to return the table*
Ben Carson must really like this friggen table!
Hope Ben Carson didn't spend $31,000 on a dining room table just because it had a picture of himself portrayed as Jesus on one of the coasters.— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) February 28, 2018
Ben Carson doesn't believe taxpayer dollars should be spent on affordable housing for low income Americans, but is perfectly fine spending $31,561 in taxpayer dollars on a table for his office.— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) February 27, 2018
Ben Carson is bringing a whole new meaning to getting paid under the table.— My wife calls me 🌽 (@Blk_and_Gyphted) February 28, 2018
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Steve Marcus