Ben Carson claimed he was ‘shocked’ by $31,000 dining set, but emails show he knew all along

A HUD spokesman said the Carsons weren't involved. The emails show they picked the furniture out themselves.

CREDIT: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
CREDIT: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Emails obtained by watchdog group American Oversight appear to catch the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a lie over Secretary Ben Carson’s involvement in the planned purchase of a $31,000 dining set for a dining room in his office.

In a March 1 statement, Carson said that he was “shocked” by the dining set’s pricetag and “made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable.” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams denied that Ben or his wife Candy had any involvement in the purchase process at all, telling CNN at the time that “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.”

But the newly released emails show that the Carsons in fact selected the furniture themselves.

The emails were first reported by CNN. According to CNN’s report, “an August email from a career administration staffer, with the subject line ‘Secretary’s dining room set needed,’ to Carson’s assistant refers to ‘printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.'”

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The emails do no indicate that Carson expressed concern about the dining set’s cost, or made moves to cancel the order until CNN first broke news about the planned purchase.

In its latest report, CNN asked Williams to explain the difference between what he said a couple weeks ago and what the emails indicate. “When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles,” he said.

When news of the $31,000 dining set broke late last month, the Carsons portrayed themselves as victims of dishonest reporting, but added that “[w]e suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation. We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right.”

As ThinkProgress detailed earlier this month, spending $31,000 on a dining set comes at a time when HUD is slashing affordable housing programs. Last May, Carson told the New York Times that to him, compassion does not mean giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’” The newly released emails show that HUD’s efforts to upgrade the furniture in Carson’s office began that same month.

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Carson isn’t the first top Trump official to get caught spending a large amount of money on themselves, while overseeing cuts to the agencies they run. Earlier this month, news broke that the Interior Department spent $139,000 on a door for Secretary Ryan Zinke. EPA head Scott PruittTreasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and former HHS Secretary Tom Price have each generated controversy for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on flights.