When news broke that a $31,000 dining room set had been ordered for the office of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the secretary’s office immediately went into crisis mode.
Carson, you see, had nothing to do with such an exorbitant expenditure – which, not for nothing, HUD canceled as soon as it came to light.
“Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” said HUD spokesman Raffi Williams at the time. Added a HUD official: “The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”
Carson, in a statement of his own released soon after the new of the dining room set came to light, said he was “surprised” at how much everything cost.
Except that new reporting – via a Freedom of Information Act request – from CNN seems to directly contradict those claims:
“An August email from a career administration staffer, with the subject line ‘Secretary’s dining room set needed,’ to Carson’s assistant refers to ‘printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.’”
Asked Tuesday about the discrepancy between his past comments and the internal emails, Williams offered only this explanation: “When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles.”
So, how do you square that circle?
Either Carson and his wife knew that the dining room set was being purchased – and its rough cost – or they didn’t. You can’t say that they had “no awareness that the table was being purchased” if, as the newly-released emails suggest, they has sent specific printouts of what furniture they wanted.
Both of those things can’t be true.
In the most friendly possible reading of Williams’ comment above, he is trying to get by on a technicality: That neither Carson nor his wife, Candy, knew the exact table that was being bought. And that neither of them actually pressed the “purchase” button – or were involved in the specific process by which furniture is acquired in the federal government.
Which, even if it’s accurate, is sort of besides the point. The clear perception that Williams and Carson were trying to create with their quotes on the $31,000 table was that the secretary and his wife knew absolutely nothing about it – that this was a purchase made further down the food chain and without the direct knowledge of the big boss.
That, we know now, simply isn’t true.
Will that fact impact Carson’s standing in the eyes of Trump? Who knows!
On the one hand, Trump has promised more staff shakeups in the wake of dismissing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday. And the handling of this entire dining room set issue has been disastrous for Carson and his team.
On the other, Trump is loathe to bow to what he believes is a media feeding frenzy. And he and Carson go way back – politically speaking – as they were rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination.
It’s impossible for the timing of this story to happen at a worse time for Carson’s longevity in the job. Trump is looking for more heads to roll. Carson just voluntarily put his head on the chopping block.