We learned earlier this month thatDr. Ben Carson planned to spend $31,000 on a dining room set. Carson did this while advocating for massive cuts to his Department of Housing and Urban Development - and thus, to affordable housing for low-income Americans. The revelation fit something of a pattern. The Trump administration is a haven for big spenders, few of whom seem to see a contradiction with their expressed opposition to government waste or the perils of Big Government.
There are the Blue Angels, including Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and the dearly departed Tom Price, who simply must fly in style wherever they go - whatever the expense. Zinke has since claimed he's never taken a private jet because the planes he used had propellers, but his Interior Department was also caught trying to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade some doors in his office. Price, on the other hand, didn't deny spending more than $1 million in taxpayer cash on private and government planes in just a few months (before he was sacked). Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin misrepresented a $122,000 European trip to ethics lawyers, including the fact that he'd used taxpayer funds to cover his wife's airfare. Perhaps feeling upstaged, Pruitt once spent $1,641 on a first-class seat from Washington, D.C. to New York City. He and several staffers also dropped $36,000 on a military jet to get from Cincinnati to New York. So much for taking this country back from the Coastal Elites.
But if there's one thing you can count on more than hypocritical spending on frivolous things, it's that Donald Trump's cabinet members will lie about said spending. CNN reminds us that both Carson and various department spokespeople denied having knowledge of the furniture purchase:
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams initially denied the Carsons had any involvement in the dining set selection. "Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased," he told CNN last month. A HUD spokesman went further at the time, blaming the purchase on an unnamed career staffer. "The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building," he said.
A few days later, Carson personally addressed the issue, telling CNN in a statement that he was "surprised" by the more than $31,000 price tag and was having the order canceled. The company confirmed a few days after CNN reported the purchase that the agency officially canceled the order on March 1.
And yet, CNN reports, there's this:
Emails show Carson and his wife selected the furniture themselves. 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."
The emails surfaced via a Freedom of Information Act request from liberal watchdog group American Oversight. That email trove also exposed that the dining set originally came in under $25,000 - under the allowed spending limit, and certainly a bargain!
"Hi Mrs. Carson!" the scheduler wrote. "There is a designer who will be in town next week on the 15th-17th to look at possibly redecorating the Secretary's office and bringing in new furniture. Are you available on any of those dates and would you like to come in and have input on the redecorating?" The scheduler noted an urgency to making a decision on the furniture: "We must have the order for new furniture in before the 21st in order to use the money allocated for this fiscal year."
The emails do not include a response from Candy Carson, but in his statement to CNN earlier this month, Secretary Carson also acknowledged there was a deadline to make a decision on the furniture purchase. Carson said he and his wife "were told there was a $25,000 budget that had to be used by a certain time or it would be lost." A quote for the dining room furniture, released as part of the FOIA, came in at $24,666, just under budget.
The career administration staffer sent the quote to Carson's office, specifically Carson's chief of staff and his executive assistant, casting further doubt on the agency's assertion that the purchase was made entirely by career staff.
No pearl-clutching is necessary with this administration, but it still bears remarking on that these nominal public servants feel entitled to spend taxpayer money freely, then lie to the taxpayers about it. Yes, the furniture exceeded the spending limit because of cost overruns, which increasingly seems a problem: We also learned Wednesday that Scott Pruitt's ultra-secret phone booth, from which we can safely assume he is Protecting the Environment and definitely not strategizing with energy industry lobbyists, cost $43,000 - not the $25,000 originally quoted.
But why did Carson (and his wife, who seems to, in Trumpian fashion, be taking a prominent role in this government despite holding no federal office) feel compelled to spend as much as possible of the $25,000 he was allowed? The HUD accountants would not flush it down an agency toilet. How many months of rent for a single mother in St. Louis would $31,000 cover? How many families of four could get the help they need to keep a roof over their heads until spring? Whether or not the monies are in separate pots, it's a matter of principle and perspective.
If you're in this administration, it's your God-given right to live large. Just ask the secretary, who tweeted this when the first Diningate story broke:
We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation. We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right. 2/2 pic.twitter.com/UrSZ2HiYd6- Ben & Candy Carson (@RealBenCarson) March 1, 2018
Psalm 91 indeed. The inverse relationship between loud, public religiosity and actual morality continues apace. The secretary is walking with Jesus - just look at his wall. It's you who needs to make sacrifices.
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