HUD: Carson asks agency to cancel $31k dining set
WASHINGTON (AP) — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has asked to cancel an order for an expensive dining set that prompted outrage this week after revelations that it cost the agency roughly $31,000, a spokesman said Thursday.
Reports of the purchase, which HUD officials said was made without Carson’s knowledge, came on the heels of allegations by a HUD employee that she was demoted after she refused to bankroll a costly remodeling of Carson’s office, which she said came at Carson’s wife’s request.
“At the request of the Secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said Thursday.
Carson has not commented publicly on the matter. But his longtime friend and PR consultant, Armstrong Williams, released a statement to CNN and said it was from Carson.
According to the statement, Carson said he was “as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered.” He said he “made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable.”
In Carson’s statement, he said that his wife Candy asked if used furniture was an option.
Williams’ spokesman Shermichael Singleton on Thursday declined to provide the statement to The Associated Press and said Williams is not employed by HUD.
It was unclear why Carson released a statement through a friend and private adviser rather than a spokesman.
Raffi Williams, the HUD spokesman, did not respond to inquiries about the statement Thursday.
The dining set controversy immediately followed reports of a whistleblower complaint filed by Helen Foster, HUD’s former chief administrative officer. Foster alleged she was demoted after being repeatedly asked to “find money” to redecorate Carson’s office at Carson’s wife’s request, despite a $5,000 statutory maximum on such expenses. Foster’s complaint was filed in November but made public in news reports Tuesday.
Foster also alleged that agency leadership ignored a $10.8 million budget deficit that she discovered and recommended be reported to appropriations staff.
The agency said Tuesday that only blinds were purchased for Carson’s office and were within the $5,000 limit. The agency said the dining set was considered “a building expense” rather than a decoration and was not ordered by Carson. The set was to be used in a room adjoining the secretary’s office.
HUD’s Office of Inspector General said Thursday it would not comment on whether it is investigating the details of Foster’s complaint or the dining set purchase. But Carson last month requested that the office investigate his son’s involvement in a listening tour in Baltimore last year to determine whether his role posed a conflict of interest.