Department of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson has come under fire after his office reportedly spent thousands of dollars on a new dining set.
According to the New York Times, the new dining set, which includes a custom hardwood table and chairs, cost $31,000. This amount is reportedly far higher than the $5,000 limit for which congressional approval is required for decorating. But HUD officials didn’t ask for approval, claiming that the dining set served a “building-wide need.”
Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman, said that Ben Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased” but also didn’t intend to return it and didn’t believe the purchase was too pricey.
Williams said that the decision to purchase the table was made by a “career staffer” and that neither Ben Carson nor his wife, Candy Carson, had asked for the table.
“$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair”
However, the purchase comes one month after a whistleblower complained that Candy Carson had been trying to get around the $5,000 approval rule to redecorate the office.
In January 2017, according to the complaint, HUD’s interim secretary, Craig Clemmensen, asked Helen G. Foster to start looking into a way to “find money” for better furniture. Clemmensen was reportedly acting on Candy Carson’s behalf, according to the complaint, which was reported on by The Guardian.
“$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair,” Clemmensen reportedly said.
When Foster not only refused to find the money but sent Clemmensen the details of the law on congressional approval, she was then removed from her position as the department’s chief administrative officer and instead placed over Freedom of Information requests.
Foster believes that the move was retaliation for not complying with the redecoration requests. However, Williams has claimed that Foster’s reassignment was routine and that Candy Carson had never pressured her on redecoration.
Still, this dining set purchase feels especially tone deaf at a time when the HUD budget is set to get slashed. Federal procurement records show that programs meant to help the homeless and poverty-stricken are about to get hit.
More ethics violations
Ben Carson was also in hot water earlier this year.
The Housing and Urban Development Secretary reportedly ignored the advice of his own lawyers when he had his son help with a “listening tour” event in June.
The Washington Post obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showing calls between Carson and Linda M. Cruciani, HUD’s deputy general counsel for operations.
Cruciani repeatedly warned Carson about the appearance of ethics violations, since his son, a local businessman, appeared to be inviting people to the event that he had business ties with.
“I expressed my concern that this gave the appearance that the Secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain,” Cruciani wrote in a July 6 memo.
In a meeting on June 26, Cruciani wrote, Carson said keeping his son out of the event would be “difficult” because he was a big employer.
“The Secretary said that it was difficult to have a Listening Tour in Baltimore without his son’s involvement as his son was the largest employer in Maryland,” Cruciani wrote. “I said that I understood his frustration, but explained that the rule that he avoid any actions that might create the appearance of violating the law was broad.”