Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, defended the purchase of a $31,000 dining set for his office, saying it was done to avoid a catastrophe because the previous dining room table “was actually dangerous.”
Appearing on Capitol Hill after weeks of scrutiny over the furniture set — a mahogany dining table, chairs and a hutch for private lunches with guests — Carson testified that the decision to replace the existing set with the new one a “facilities” issue and not a decorating one because of concerns about the old set.
“It’s my understanding that the facilities people felt that the dining room table was actually dangerous,” he told a House Appropriations subcommittee, The Washington Post reports. “People are being stuck by nails, a chair collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it’s 50 years old.”
Carson’s testimony appeared to contradict previous accounts of the case.
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams initially told media outlets that “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” when news of its purchase became public in February, and emails between HUD staffers emerged later that indicated that Carson and his wife had weighed in on the purchase.
Carson was asked about his spokesman’s quote by committee member Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.).
“I can tell you what I did,” he said. “I do not intend to be responsible for what anyone else said.”
In his opening statement, Price, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, called the purchases and their aftermath “ethical lapses.”
“It is bad enough,” Price said of purchasing the expensive dining set. “More disturbing are the false public statements, compounded by the roles that the secretary’s family has taken in the department. Public service is a public trust.”
The table episode has drawn scrutiny from Congress because of its price tag, as well as complaints that a career HUD official was demoted in retaliation for expressing concern about the office expenses and how to comply with open-records laws, which require notifying the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for decorating expenditures of more than $5,000.
Carson joins several Trump Cabinet members who have come under scrutiny for what some have criticized as excessive personal spending. He has also been questioned for his family’s role in official business, including that of his son, Ben Jr., an investor who helped organize meetings in Baltimore last summer, despite the advice of department lawyers against it.