Carson promises ‘full disclosure’ over use of public funds to buy furniture, in his first public remarks since news of Hud spending broke
Ben Carson, the US secretary for housing and urban development (Hud), has scrapped an order for a $31,000 dining set for his Washington office amid a growing ethics controversy.
Raffi Williams, a Hud spokesman, said in an email on Thursday: “At the request of the secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set.”
The decision, first reported by CNN, followed a promise from Carson of “full disclosure” over his use of public funds to buy expensive furniture, in his first public remarks since the Guardian revealed a senior Hud official’s allegation that she was demoted for refusing to break a legal spending limit on redecoration.
The pressure has been growing on Carson amid reports that the White House was angered by his spending.
Facing a question about the expensive dining set, and whether the president was considering Carson’s future, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said: “In terms of if you are asking if he is getting rid of anyone in the cabinet, I’m not aware of that. The order you reference, that was cancelled,” she said, noting that Carson’s department was “looking for another option that is much more responsible to taxpayer dollars”.
Carson and his wife, Candy, denied wrongdoing in a post to their personal Twitter account on Wednesday evening and struck out at unidentified enemies.
“We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation,” they wrote.
The Republican-controlled House oversight committee told Carson on Wednesday to turn over all documentation relating to the reassignment of Helen Foster, who was moved from her job as chief administrative officer last year following a series of disagreements with managers.
Foster alleged to a whistleblower-protection watchdog that she lost her job partly as retaliation for her refusal in January and February last year to find a way to exceed a $5,000 limit on spending on improvements to Carson’s office.
She said she was told by Craig Clemmensen, who was Hud’s acting director while Carson went through the Senate confirmation process, to find more money for use by Carson’s wife, Candy, and that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair”.
Following Foster’s reassignment, the department spent $31,000 on a dining table and accompanying items for Carson’s suite. The findings came after Donald Trump proposed billions of dollars in cuts to Hud’s budget, reducing programs for poor and homeless people.
Carson’s department also signed a contract last year to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its Washington headquarters from the retailer OFS Brands of Huntingburg, Indiana, according to federal procurement records.
The president and chief of executive of OFS Brands, Robert “Hank” Menke, has made donations to Republican politicians including Mike Pence, the US vice-president, who as Indiana governor in 2013 appointed Menke to a “blue ribbon panel” on transportation and infrastructure in the state.
Menke, whose family founded OFS Brands, has contributed $49,000 to Republican campaigns in Indiana since 2004, according to state campaign finance filings. He has also given $35,700 to Republican campaigns at federal level since 2011, according to filings to the federal election commission.
OFS Brands also supplied furniture to federal government departments during Barack Obama’s presidency. Emails to the company from the Guardian were not returned when comment was sought about the Hud furniture, some of which came from a range that OFS describes as “glamorous, with a beau mondes presence”.
Democrats in Congress and the campaign group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) on Wednesday urged Hud’s inspector general, Helen Albert, to investigate the allegations made by Foster.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the senior Democrat on the Senate’s banking committee, said Albert should expand an inquiry that he and colleagues asked for earlier this month following reports on Carson’s involvement of his family members in government affairs.
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