More than a year after Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson indulged in a $31,000 dining room set for his secretarial suite—more than six times the $5,000 legal limit for office redecorating—the HUD inspector general has cleared Carson of any wrongdoing.
A report summarizing the investigation was obtained by the Washington Post.
“We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement,” the report read.
Carson violated federal law with the purchase of the dining room set—which included, as The Root’s Stephen Crockett pointed out, a breakfront china cabinet—back in 2017. Legally, once the $5,000 budget for redecorating is surpassed, congressional appropriators must be notified.
Readers, they were not.
From The Post:
The investigation concluded that the purchase order was initiated after HUD staff determined that the 30-year-old furniture in Carson’s suite was in poor condition and should be replaced. Staff also told Carson that departmental funds were available and that the money would be lost if not spent by a certain date, the report said. The evidence showed that Carson was “fine” with replacing the furniture but left the details to his staff and his wife, Candy Carson, who provided “stylistic input.”
Carson told investigators that it “seemed like” he had heard before the order being placed that he could not spend more than $5,000 to improve his office space, but said he was under the impression that the dollar limit applied only to his personal office — not to his entire suite, the report said. Carson said he first learned about the price tag for the dining room set from media reports. Candy Carson declined to be interviewed during the inspector general’s investigation.
In case you were wondering whether Carson was throwing his wife, Candy, under the bus—the answer is a resounding “HE SURE DID.” It’s also stunning how Carson’s signature scent of unrepentantly non-committal with base notes of “I just want a fucking nap” just emanates from these short quotes. The man knows his brand!
Anyway, the report places the blame squarely on the department officials involved in the process, who should have notified Congress about the pricey furniture. “The fact that evidently no one involved in this procurement had such awareness indicates a systemic failure,” the report stated.
But one former staffer, Helen Foster, the agency’s former chief administrative officer, pointed out that qualms had been raised about the legality of the purchase—specifically, by her. And in response, the agency demoted her for speaking up.
“The people involved in this furniture procurement all reported to me, and everyone was aware of the $5,000 limit and the requirement to notify Congress,” Foster told the Post. “They were not clueless. The decision to pursue the dining set happened the month after I was removed.”
Foster later resigned from her position.
Carson’s response to this whole thing can best be summarized with a yawn and a shrug, and an insistence that this is, somehow, all the media’s fault.
“They try to claim that I want to buy expensive furniture while I’m trying to take money away from the poor people. That was the only narrative that they were interested in,” Carson told Fox Business Network on Thursday. “There’s probably no one in Washington who cares less about furniture than I do.”