Tuesday's House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Housing and Urban Development Department's budget ended up largely being about HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office furniture budget — specifically, the $31,000 mahogany dining set Carson's office ordered. Carson "offered a rambling, at times contradictory, explanation of the purchase of the table, chairs, and hutch," The New York Times notes, pinning the blame variously on safety considerations; his wife, Candy Carson; and staff members.
In his telling, Carson was blameless and ignorant of the cost, despite emails showing that his top aides were aware of the price tag and discussed how to get around the $5,000 office redecoration cap. "It's my understanding that the facilities people felt that the dining room table was actually dangerous," Carson said. "People are being stuck by nails, a chair collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it's 50 years old." It wasn't clear when those things happened, or if Carson was even being literal.
Claiming he's "not big into redecorating," Carson said he "invited my wife to come and help" pick out the new furniture he was told he was entitled to. "I left it to my wife, you know, to choose something. I dismissed myself from the issues," Carson said, and his wife "selected the color and style ... with the caveat that we were both not happy about the price." Candy Carson, he added, is "the most frugal person in the world," and "if anybody knew my wife, they would realize how ridiculous this was."
American Oversight, the watchdog group that requested the emails linking the Carsons to the purchase, found Carson's explanation a little ridiculous. "Setting aside the issue of whether it is appropriate for Secretary Carson to delegate decisions regarding the use of taxpayer funds to his wife, this is now at least the third version of Carson's story about the furniture," said American Oversight's Clark Pettig. HUD says Carson has tried to cancel the order.