Ben Carson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told a House committee Tuesday that he left the decision over furnishing his office to his wife, and denied knowledge of a plan to purchase a $31,000 dining room set that has since become controversial.
The retired Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate also told the panel that he dismissed questions from the department’s ethics counsel about the propriety of allowing his son — who does not work for the government — to set up a listening tour for the secretary last year in Baltimore.
“I’m not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about how something looks,” Carson told a House Appropriations subcommittee. “I realized that that’s not the way of Washington and, you know, that’s a lesson that I’ve learned.”
Carson has faced increased scrutiny for the $31,000 dining room set, ordered at a time when the agency was contemplating deep cuts to housing programs. When news of the purchase became public, a HUD spokesman said that neither Carson nor his wife was aware of it.
Documents obtained by the left-leaning watchdog group American Oversight last week contradicted that narrative. One email showed a HUD staff member referencing “the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.” Another email showed a HUD staffer writing Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, to ask if she was available to meet with a designer about “bringing in new furniture.”
In his testimony Tuesday, Carson said he “asked my wife to help me with that.” The secretary said the office’s current table is in such disrepair that people were being stuck by nails, and a chair had collapsed.
“They showed us some catalogs,” he said. “I left it with my wife.”
The mahogany dining set was purchased from the Baltimore interior design firm Sebree and Associates. Carson said the department has since canceled the order.
“I’m not really big into decorating,” he said. “If it was up to me my office would probably look like a hospital waiting room.”
He also blamed the media for its coverage of the controversy.
Carson has faced criticism for involving his wife and son in government business. He called on the department’s inspector general last month to investigate that involvement.
In a memo published earlier this year by The Washington Post, a HUD attorney wrote that Ben Carson Jr. reached out to some of Baltimore’s most prominent leaders to request they attend events associated with the June “listening tour.” Carson Jr., who does not work for HUD but often appears with his father at official events, invited several notable local figures to the event.