- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is under fire spending $31,000 on a lavish dining set for his office.
- The spending has resulted in a complaint to the Office of Special Counsel as well as a House Oversight Committee investigation.
- Carson’s office said Thursday it’s attempting to cancel the order for the dining set, which has not yet been delivered, but that “it might not be possible” due to bureaucracy.
Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, has been under fire for days over allegations of lavish spending on his office decor as the Trump administration proposes massive budget cuts to his agency.
The controversy came to a head on Thursday, when Carson’s staff said they were attempting to cancel an order for a $31,000 mahogany dining set to replace the 50-year-old table currently in Carson’s office. But rescinding the order “might not be possible,” Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, told The New York Times.
“HUD is a bureaucracy, so everything is complicated. The person they contracted has already spent $14,000 making the table,” Williams said. “While his intentions are to cancel it, we have to see what happens.”
HUD has also agreed to spend an additional $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for the office’s Washington headquarters, The Guardian reported.
Carson denied he knew about the $31,000 dining set order, telling CNN in a statement that his office would try to find another solution for replacing office furniture.
“I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered,” Carson said. “I made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable.”
Documents obtained by CNN revealed that the dining set included a table, sideboard, breakfront, along with 10 mahogany chairs finished with blue velvet.
‘$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair’
Carson’s spending first attracted scrutiny when a former top HUD official, Helen Foster, filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel over the spending. Foster claimed Carson’s wife pressured her to find a way around the $5,000 legal price limit for the office redecorations, then retaliated against her when she refused.
Foster said she was told that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” and “we have to find the money.”
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams denied that Carson’s wife pressured her and told The Times that Foster was reassigned as part of a routine agency reshuffle, not out of retaliation.
But the controversy was enough to trigger a House Oversight Committee investigation. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, sent Carson’s staff a letter on Wednesday demanding documents on office furnishings since the beginning of 2017 and an explanation for the $31,000 purchase.
But the Carsons maintain there was “no dishonesty or wrongdoing.”
“Thank you to so many who have expressed concern for me and my family over the latest accusations,” Carson said Wednesday on the joint Twitter account he shares with his wife, Candy Carson. “All the numbers and evidence are being gathered and a full disclosure is forthcoming.”