First on CNN: Emails show Ben, Candy Carson selected $31,000 dining set
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/14/2018, 12:47 p.m.
By Rene Marsh and Gregory Wallace, CNN
(CNN) -- Newly released emails cast doubt on claims by Secretary Ben Carson and his spokesman that he had little or no involvement in the purchase of a $31,000 furniture set for his Department of Housing and Urban Development dining room.
Emails show Carson and his wife selected the furniture themselves.
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."
The documents were released following a Freedom of Information Act request from American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group led by former Obama administration officials, and offer a snapshot into how the agency acquired the furniture.
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams initially denied the Carsons had any involvement in the dining set selection.
"Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased," he told CNN last month.
A HUD spokesman went further at the time, blaming the purchase on an unnamed career staffer. "The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building," he said.
A few days later, Carson personally addressed the issue, telling CNN in a statement that he was "surprised" by the more than $31,000 price tag and was having the order canceled. The company confirmed a few days after CNN reported the purchase that the agency officially canceled the order on March 1.
"I briefly looked at catalogs for dining furniture and was shocked by the cost of the furniture," Carson wrote. "My wife also looked at catalogs and wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decour (sic)."
Confronted Tuesday with the discrepancy between his past comments and the internal emails, Williams offered only this explanation: "When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles."
The newly released emails show discussions about the dining set going back to last May, when two Carson aides asked for repairs to the chairs of the existing furniture.
"Could you all get the dining room chairs tighten up?" one of the aides wrote. "Most of them are loose and wiggling."
Another called the chairs "fairly precarious" and wrote that she wanted to "avoid someone having an accident (and embarrassment!) should the chair collapse beneath them."
About a week later, HUD received an estimate for $1,100 to repair the chairs, documents obtained by CNN show.
Carson referenced this concern in his statement released earlier this month. The furniture, he said, was "characterized as unsafe" and was "beyond repair and needed to be replaced."
Several months after considering repairs to the dining set in early August, HUD's scheduling office reached out to Candy Carson, the secretary's wife.
"Hi Mrs. Carson!" the scheduler wrote. "There is a designer who will be in town next week on the 15th-17th to look at possibly redecorating the Secretary's office and bringing in new furniture. Are you available on any of those dates and would you like to come in and have input on the redecorating?"