Ben Carson, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, and his wife Candy picked out a $31,000 dining room set for his government office, internal emails show-contradicting earlier statements from a department spokesman that Carson and his wife "had no awareness that the table was being purchased".
However, an email sent back in August to Carson's assistant referenced the need for the new dining room set and "printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out".
Carson's team later claimed that the legal cap did not apply to the $31,000 furniture order, because the dining set would be for the benefit of the entire Hud headquarters staff.
Austin Evers, American Oversight's executive director, said in a statement that the effort to upgrade Carson's immediate surroundings is at odds with some of his public policy positions, including a quip he made during an interview with the New York Times in May that public housing officials should avoid creating "a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: 'I'll just stay here. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement".
"The secretary did not order a new table", this person said.
"I don't think it even crossed her mind, this separate room", he said.
Asked Tuesday about the differences in Carson's statement and what the emails reveal, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams explained: "When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles". "Are you available on any of those dates and would you like to come in and have input on the redecorating?"
HUD chief of staff Sheila Greenwood sent an email February 20, 2017, in which she suggested showing Candy Carson some furniture choices during a planned visit the following day.
One email chain shows serving cart options were approved by "leadership" but doesn't specify who made the request. "I have requested that the order be canceled".
He added that he might choose a different dining room set, but that his "preference" would be a more "reasonable" price tag.
But by summer, the emails show, there was an about-face coinciding with the reassignment of a senior staff member, Helen G. Foster, who has claimed in a whistleblower complaint that she refused to comply with Candy Carson's request to "find the money" to fund a more lavish renovation.
The furniture was originally quoted at $24,666, according to an email from Rodriguez to Mills. One email published by American Oversight indicates that HUD received an estimate that said fixing a chair would cost about $1,100.