Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was involved in selecting a $31,000 dining table set for his office suite, emails show, despite Carson and HUD’s statements that he had no knowledge of the costly request.
A cache of emails obtained by the advocacy group American Oversight show a HUD employee referring to “print outs of the furniture Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out” on Aug. 29, 2017.
In the same email chain with Carson’s executive assistant and chief of staff, HUD administrative officer Aida Rodriguez provided a price quote of just under $24,666 for the set.
“I think this is a very reasonable price and the funds are available,” Rodriguez wrote. “We also have a justification for the cost (as you know, the furniture hasn’t been changed since 1988) so this should not be a problem.”
Federal law prohibits the head of a department spending more than $5,000 on refurnishing an office without getting advance approval from Congress.
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The emails, first reported by CNN, also indicate that Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, came to the office to weigh in on the redecoration plan.
After news of the planned purchase surfaced late last month, Carson’s spokesman said career staff made the decision to replace the current table without consulting the secretary.
Carson elaborated in a Facebook post on March 5.
“I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered,” Carson wrote. “I have requested that the order be canceled.”
The post to his personal page lamented that “character attacks on us have increased in an attempt to claim that a scandal has occurred.” A former HUD employee filed an ethics complaint, claiming she’d been demoted for refusing to help Carson circumvent spending caps to redecorate.
In the post, Carson said that once staff told him the current table, purchased in 1967, was “unsafe” and “beyond repair,” and he initially pushed for the purchase of used furniture, but “our acquisition process did not allow for that.”
He also suggested he had dropped the matter with a final exhortation to be frugal. After looking at the catalogs, he wrote, “I made it clear that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable. I left this matter alone to concentrate on much bigger issues.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened a probe into the expenditure, giving Carson until Wednesday to provide all documents and receipts related to the redecoration of his office. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two other Senate Democrats made their own request for documentation last week.