Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson detailed his wife’s involvement Tuesday in picking out a dining room set for his office, telling a House subcommittee, “I left it with my wife.”
Carson said that his wife, Candy, selected “a style and a color” of the furniture set that ultimately cost HUD $31,000.
“A style and a color was selected by her with the caveat that we were not happy with the pricing and they needed to find something,” Carson told lawmakers.
He went on to defend her, “If anybody knew my wife, they would realize how ridiculous this was. She’s the most frugal person in the world.”
A HUD spokesperson had previously told CNN in a statement last month that “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.” Internal HUD emails indicated that the Carsons had picked out the furniture.
Carson said Tuesday the issue of replacing the dining room set was raised “because people were being stuck by nails, the chairs collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it’s 50 years old.”
“I said, ‘OK, we can potentially do that.’ I asked my wife also to help me with that,” he told lawmakers.
“They showed us some catalogs. The prices were beyond what I wanted to pay. I made it clear that just didn’t seem right to me. And, you know, I left it with my wife,” he said.
Carson argued that he wasn’t concerned about the furniture because he had more important issues to handle as HUD secretary.
Carson said he first heard of the $31,000 price tag after it was reported and “immediately” canceled the order from the interior design firm Sebree and Associates in Baltimore, Maryland. He testified that the money spent on the dining set was returned to the US Treasury.
“I’m not really big into decorating. If it was up to me, my office would probably look like hospital waiting room,” quipped Carson, who previously worked as a neurosurgeon.
He said his wife is not involved in any other decisions regarding the purchasing of furniture for HUD.
Carson was also asked about inconsistencies in the messaging from the agency regarding how involved he and his wife were in the process to purchase the dining set compared to what internal HUD emails indicate. The emails were released through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“There appears to be some contradiction in the record about your statements to the press indicating early on that you had no knowledge of this purchase,” Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina, said to Carson.
Carson denied he ever spoke directly to the press.
When Price pointed to the statement that the HUD spokesman provided to CNN at the time, Carson distanced himself from his spokesman’s comments.
“I would respectfully tell you what I said. I can tell you what I did. I do not intend to be responsible for what anybody else said,” Carson said.
Carson then said that the content of his statement made via Facebook where he personally addressed the issue “is quite accurate.”