Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon turned secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was forced to explain Tuesday why he ordered a $31,000 mahogany dining room set for his office using taxpayer money. Under oath, he identified the culprit: his wife, Candy Carson.
Carson was speaking before the House Appropriations committee, when a Democrat at the hearing suggested he had made some “ethical lapses” — an assertion that left Carson visibly annoyed.
“If it were up to me, I would decorate my office like a hospital waiting room,” Carson said, according to the New York Times. He then squarely placed the blame on his wife for making the purchase.
“I left it with my wife,” Carson said. “I said, ‘Help choose something.’ But I said, ‘The money that is going to be used, we need to take care of the deputy secretary’s office. And whatever’s left over we can take care of the dining room furniture…’ The next thing that I quite frankly heard about it was that this $31,000 table had been bought. I thought, ‘What the heck is that all about?’”
Carson had a $5,000 federal spending cap, which he exceeded by at least $26,000 — not for decorative purposes, but, he says, out of genuine concern for safety.
“People were stuck by nails, and a chair had collapsed with someone sitting in it,” Carson said.
This was Carson’s first public appearance since the news broke that he had purchased the lavish dining room table for his office. At the time, HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams told CNN that Carson “had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” and that it was an internal decision made by government employees.
“The secretary did not order a new table,” Williams told CNN. “The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”
But CNN obtained an email that directly disputed his claims that Carson didn’t know about the table. An email sent from a career administration staffer in August to Carson’s assistant, using the subject line, “Secretary’s dining room set needed,” refers to “printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.”
After the CNN article was published, Williams backtracked, saying, “When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles.”
Cover image: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson arrives to testify before the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies on Capitol Hill March 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Secretary Carson has drawn fire from lawmakers for purchasing furniture for his office suite despite agency cutbacks. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)