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HUD Secretary Ben Carson cleared in watchdog's probe of $31,000 dining room set purchase

Key Points
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development's internal watchdog cleared Secretary Ben Carson of wrongdoing Thursday after investigating a planned purchase of more than $31,000 worth of dining room furniture for his office suite.
  • HUD "did not ultimately purchase this furniture, and the procurement did not result in the expenditure of any departmental funds because it was canceled on March 1, 2018, at the direction of Secretary Carson in response to media reports about the procurement," the watchdog notes.
  • "We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson" — who provided fashion input — "exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement," the report says.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testifies during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on September 10, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Zach Gibson | Getty Images

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's internal watchdog cleared Secretary Ben Carson of wrongdoing after investigating a planned purchase of more than $31,000 worth of dining room furniture for his office suite.

"We did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate allegations of misconduct on the part of Secretary Carson in connection with this procurement," the department's Office of Inspector General said in a new report on the probe.

The department, known as HUD, disclosed the eyebrow-raising price tag in February 2018. Carson was nominated for the Cabinet-level position by President Donald Trump in December 2016, and confirmed to the post in March.

The report, released Thursday afternoon, said that HUD officials did allocate $31,561 for "the purchase of new dining room furniture for the secretarial suite" without informing congressional Appropriations Committees, as required by law for any purchase of furniture or decorations in excess of $5,000.

But, the office noted, HUD "did not ultimately purchase this furniture, and the procurement did not result in the expenditure of any departmental funds because it was canceled on March 1, 2018, at the direction of Secretary Carson in response to media reports about the procurement."

The officials initially responsible for the purchase had determined that the furniture set in the secretarial suite was in "poor condition" and "should be replaced," the report said. Those officials were aware of the law requiring them to inform Congress about the purchase, but either failed to consider it or failed to understand that they were bound by it.

Carson himself indicated he was "fine" with replacing the furniture. He let his wife provide "stylistic input" to his staff to handle the situation, the report says.

"We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement," the watchdog wrote.

A spokesperson for the inspector general's office told NBC News that "we believe the findings of the report released today speaks for itself."

Still, "for the sake of clarity," the spokesperson highlighted the fact that the watchdog's report makes no recommendations to HUD since it 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."

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