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Carson tries to cancel $31K dining set for HUD office

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Vice President Mike Pence and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, right, spoke at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Tuesday, in Nashville, Tenn.

WASHINGTON >> Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, is attempting to cancel a $31,000 order for a customized hardwood dining room table, chairs, sideboard and hutch the day after the chairman of the House Oversight Committee announced an investigation into the refurbishment of his HUD office.

“At the request of the secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager and an informal adviser, said today.

He added, however, that “it might not be possible.”

On Tuesday, Raffi Williams, a department spokesman, said Carson had no problem with the order and no intention of returning the table. But early today, Williams said the secretary, who was sharply criticized for the purchase at a time when his agency is facing $6.8 billion in budget cuts requested by the White House, seemed to change his mind.

“Nobody was more surprised than me,” about the order, Carson said in a statement.

But several department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said it would have been highly unusual for Carson not to have been told that a significant section of his office suite was about to be upgraded.

According to Williams, neither Carson nor his wife, Candy Carson, had any prior knowledge of the order, although a whistleblower has said Candy Carson had pressured her to circumvent a $5,000 statutory limit on renovation expenses.

Canceling the order for the custom-made furniture will not be easy, and it is unlikely the government will recoup all its money even if the dining room set is never delivered. It was ordered Dec. 21 from a small Baltimore company.

“He’s not returning the table; he is attempting to cancel the order,” Williams said. “HUD is a bureaucracy, so everything is complicated. The person they contracted has already spent $14,000 making the table.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the Oversight Committee, sent Carson’s staff a letter Wednesday demanding an explanation for the purchase of the dining room set, which might have violated a federal law requiring congressional approval for any office renovation expense exceeding $5,000.

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