EXCLUSIVE: The inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a new report that investigators found no evidence of misconduct by Secretary Ben Carson concerning a controversial order for expensive furniture in late 2017.
The watchdog completed the report Wednesday, after more than a year investigating whether Carson and his wife improperly tried to purchase a $31,561 dining set for his office as part of a costly makeover. Fox News obtained a copy of the findings.
The inspector general found that Carson left the matter of purchasing furniture to members of his staff to handle, “in consultation with his wife, who provided stylistic input after the Department decided to purchase new furniture.”
“We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement,” the report stated. “We did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate allegations of misconduct on the part of Secretary Carson in connection with this procurement.”
Speaking on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.,” Carson said the report proves what he’s been saying all along.
“I was so disgusted with that story, because they try to claim that I want to buy expensive furniture while I’m trying to take money away from the poor people,” he said. “There’s probably no one in Washington who cares less about furniture than I do.”
The inspector general found that HUD staff initiated a process in mid-2017 to replace the dining room furniture in Carson’s suite. HUD officials obligated $31,561 in departmental funds on Dec. 21, 2017 for the purchase of new dining room furniture, but “did not make required notification” to the House and Senate's appropriations committees before doing so.
HUD, though, ultimately did not get the furniture. The order was canceled on March 1, 2018 at the direction of Carson, in response to media reports.
The inspector general wrote that they “are not making any recommendations to the Department as a result of the evidence gathered in this investigation because we found no evidence of misconduct and because the Department is working to address the legal ramifications of the dining-room furniture procurement and to prevent future appropriations-law violations.”
The investigation began last year after HUD’s former chief administrative officer Helen Foster complained that she was retaliated against for objecting to the cost of the dining room set, saying it was beyond the $5,000 statutory maximum for office updates.
Foster said she was demoted for refusing to bankroll the remodeling and claimed it was requested by Carson’s wife amid an environment where top officials told her to skirt the rules. Foster said she was told the department “has always found money for this in the past” and that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
The department said in response to that report that Carson decorated his office mainly with furniture from the agency’s basement and did not ask for a new dining set. Instead, HUD blamed it on “career staffers.”
The department also denied retaliation, saying that Foster is still a HUD employee and that it is customary for staffers to be rotated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.