New documents made public Wednesday suggest U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was involved with the purchase of the controversial $31,000 furniture set for his office suite, despite claims by an agency spokesman that he was not aware of it.
Carson and his spokesman Raffi Williams repeatedly claimed that the Hud secretary was not involved in a decision to make the purchase, after the Guardian revealed a controversy at the department around the furnishing of his office.
As CNN notes, one HUD spokesman even blamed the purchase on an unnamed staffer: "The secretary did not order a new table".
"The secretary did not order a new table", said Carson, the HUD secretary.
"We also have a justification for the cost (as you know, the furniture hasn't been changed since 1988) so this should not be a problem", she added. "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".
At least one of Ben Carson's predecessors - Shaun Donovan, who served under President Barack Obama - abandoned the idea of replacing the furniture when told it would exceed the statutory price limit, according to two former agency officials.
Foster wrote in a February 22 email that she had to answer "endless questions about why I won't fund more than the $5000 limit" for redecorating the office.
After the expenditure was revealed-prompting outrage about government excess-a spokesperson for HUD said that Carson had no knowledge of the expenditure.
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Several months after considering repairs to the dining set in early August, HUD's scheduling office reached out to Candy Carson, the secretary's wife.
"My wife also looked at catalogs and wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decor", Carson continued.
The furniture hunt did not end in February, however: an aging conference table and its accompanying chairs used for Carson's private lunches with guests proved so problematic that his deputies chose to order a replacement at the cost of $31,561.
A response from Candy Carson was not included in the string of emails.
In a Facebook post last week, the Carsons denied allegations that they were responsible for the purchase of the $31,000 dining set.
Former HUD official Helen Foster filed a complaint with department's special counsel late past year, in which she claimed she had been demoted because she raised concerns about the purchases.
The emails contain vivid descriptions of the "wobbling" chairs and table. "I think this is a very reasonable price and the funds are available", the career official wrote.