(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said he wasn’t trying to mislead the public when an agency spokesman initially denied that he and his family were involved in a controversial decision to buy a $31,000 dining room set for his office.
Carson addressed the furor Tuesday during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for HUD. Some lawmakers on the panel seemed more interested in the shifting characterizations of the secretary’s role in the ultimately scrapped furniture purchase than in Trump’s plan to cut agency spending 14 percent to $41.24 billion, which likely faces a similar fate.
HUD officials initially said Carson and his family weren’t involved in selecting the furniture, before emails emerged that showed they did help choose it. Carson canceled the order and said the U.S. Treasury had received a full refund.
Carson told lawmakers at the House hearing that other HUD officials told him the office’s dining set needed to be changed because it was falling apart and people were getting stuck by nails when using it. He said he asked his wife to help pick a new one.
“I wasn’t that concerned about furniture,” Carson said. He said he didn’t know about the price until he became aware of it through news reports, and that he immediately ordered the cancellation of the purchase after he learned of the cost.
A HUD spokesman had initially denied that the Carsons were at all involved in or aware of the dining set purchase. When Representative David Price of North Carolina, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, pointed out the spokesman’s statements, Carson said, “I do not intend to be responsible for what anybody else said.”
The dining-set controversy came after other reports on Carson’s family’s involvement at HUD. Carson has allowed his family members to attend official HUD functions even after agency officials expressed ethics concerns. He has asked HUD’s inspector general to look into the issue and the IG has said it is.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.