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Pricey dining set for Carson's office is canceled, White House says

A pricey purchase order for a lavish dining room set for the office of HUD Secretary Ben Carson had been canceled, the White House said.
Image: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks at Vaux Big Picture High School in Philadelphia on Sept. 19, 2017.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks at Vaux Big Picture High School in Philadelphia on Sept. 19, 2017.Matt Rourke / AP file

He probably should have just gone to Ikea.

The White House said Thursday that a pricey dining room set ordered for the office of Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had been canceled, after the reported price tag — more than $31,000 — sparked intense backlash.

"The order you referenced was canceled," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing in response to a question about the reported cost of the set. She added that Carson is now "looking for another option that’s much more responsible with taxpayer dollars."

Sanders' statement came days after reports emerged that the cabinet agency, tasked with overseeing and enforcing public and fair housing laws, had splashed out large sums on the dining room set and other pieces of furniture for the agency’s Washington headquarters.

The New York Times, citing federal procurement records, reported Tuesday that officials at HUD — the cabinet agency tasked with overseeing and enforcing public and fair housing laws — had spent $31,561 on a custom hardwood table, chairs and a hutch (a dining-ware cabinet and shelving piece) for Carson’s office late last year.

Earlier Thursday, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told NBC News that Carson had requested that the agency "rescind" the order.

Approval of the purchase would have come just weeks before the White House proposed slashing billions in federal funding from the agency’s efforts to help predominantly minority urban communities and disabled and elderly families.

The Guardian also reported Tuesday that the department had agreed to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its Washington office, on top of the dining room set expenditure.

The reported costs quickly raised a red flag for the prominent government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which called for an investigation on Wednesday.

“At a time when services for the poor and homeless may be curtailed by budget cuts, it appears that the Carson family is inappropriately spending a great deal of money to make Secretary Carson’s office more comfortable,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “This is egregious and should be investigated.”

Williams, the HUD spokesman, told The Times in an earlier statement that Carson, who in May opined that public housing shouldn't provide “a comfortable setting,” didn't know about the dining set purchase but did not feel it was too expensive and did not intend to return it.

Williams also told the newspapers that HUD officials had gone to great lengths to save the department money in its redecorating efforts, claiming they had even brought previously used items up from the agency’s subbasement.

“Secretary Carson, to the best of our knowledge, is the only secretary to go to the subbasement at his agency to select the furniture for his office,” Williams told The Times. He also told The Post that the agency had not overspent on its redecorating efforts.

Williams did not respond to repeated questions from NBC News about the dining set and other furniture purchases, including a question about why Carson had requested that the dining set order be rescinded.

Williams also did not respond to questions about whether HUD officials had sought approval for the purchases from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees. Under a federal law known as the “Antideficiency Act,” federal agencies must seek approval for federal appropriations for certain purchases, including redecorating expenditures, from Congress.

Carson and his wife, Candy, put out a statement Wednesday night on the verified, personal Twitter account they share that said "there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing by us."

"We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation," they added, in an apparent reference to the complaint reportedly filed by a former HUD employee alleging that Candy Carson had pressured agency officials to make the expenditures even if the law wouldn’t allow it. "We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right."

According to The Times, the watchdog complaint noted that the limit for redecorating purchases, before HUD would have had to notify Congress, is $5,000.