US housing secretary 'picked out' $31,000 dining set despite denial

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Ben Carson (L) is a former paediatric neurosurgeon

US housing secretary Ben Carson “picked out” an expensive office dining set, despite an aide’s claim he didn’t know about the purchase, agency emails show.

When the agency’s purchase of a $31,000 (£22,000) furniture set was revealed, Mr Carson said he was “surprised” by the cost and was cancelling the order.

But a newly revealed email sent to Mr Carson’s assistant in August seems to contradict the spokesman’s claim.

Congress has launched an investigation into the purchase.

The House Oversight Committee has requested documents explaining the decision to buy the dining set, which exceeds the $5,000 spending limit the federal government allow for decorating government offices.

The emails, which were revealed on Tuesday through a Freedom of Information request, includes one sent from a Department of Housing and Urban Development employee to Mr Carson’s assistant with the subject: “Secretary’s dining room set needed.”

That email goes on to cite “printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs Carson picked out”.

Housing and Urban Development spokesman Raffi Williams said last month that Mr Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, “had no awareness that the table was being purchased”.

Mr Carson said a few days later that he was “shocked by the cost of the furniture”, adding that “I was as surprised as anyone” to learn of the steep cost.

“I briefly looked at catalogues for dining furniture and was shocked by the cost of the furniture,” Mr Carson’s statement read.

“My wife also looked at catalogues and wanted to be sure that the colour of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decour (sic).”

When asked again what role they played on Tuesday, Mr Williams said that Mrs Carson was “presented with options by professional staff”, and she “participated in the selection of specific styles”.

Austin Evers, from a group called American Oversight, which submitted the request for the emails, said that Mr Carson’s alleged purchase is at odds with some of his public policy positions.

He referenced one a remark Mr Carson made to the New York Times saying that public housing officials should avoid creating “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.'”

“Secretary Carson famously argued that public housing should be uncomfortable to discourage people from staying for long periods of time, but apparently his concern for cost-cutting ends at the door to his own office,” Mr Evers said.

Mr Carson, a former paediatric neurosurgeon, ran a failed Republican campaign for US president in 2016.

After dropping out, the conservative Christian was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He is not the first Trump officials to be accused of misspending taxpayers’ money.

Mr Trump’s first health secretary was forced to resign after his preference for costly private flights came to light.

At least three other White House cabinet officials have also been rebuked for spending excessively on flights for official travel.

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