Republican Presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2016 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., March 4, 2016.
Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Carson, cabinet colleagues face awkward questions about use of public funds

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is already facing difficult questions about the exorbitant costs of his taxpayer-financed travel, and this week, the story grew a little more serious. We know that the cabinet secretary inquired about using a military plane for his European honeymoon, though Mnuchin said he found another option and withdrew his request.

Mother Jones, citing documents from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), reported this week that the Treasury secretary’s version of events is in doubt.

It’s against this backdrop that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who’s also faced months of controversy over his taxpayer-financed travel, is facing another round of unflattering headlines. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Oklahoma Republican “spent more than $120,000 in public funds last summer for a trip to Italy,” including more than $30,000 just to cover the cost of Pruitt’s enormous security detail.

The Washington Post  reported last night, meanwhile, that the Environmental Protection Agency “turned over documents to Congress late Tuesday detailing nearly $68,000 in newly disclosed travel costs” Pruitt during the past seven months.

And then, of course, there’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who’s struggled to keep his story straight about his very expensive taxpayer-funded furniture, and who yesterday tried to clear things up during a congressional hearing. As the New York Times  reported, it didn’t go well.

Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, told a House committee on Tuesday that he had “dismissed” himself from the decision to buy a $31,000 dining room set for his office last year, leaving the details to his wife and staff.

Mr. Carson offered a rambling, at times contradictory, explanation of the purchase of the table, chairs and hutch, a transaction that turned into a public relations disaster that led President Trump to consider replacing him, according to White House aides.

Carson added yesterday that the new furniture was necessary in part for security reasons. He told lawmakers than aide told him, “People are being stuck by nails, a chair collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it’s 50 years old.”

Then he blamed his wife, which probably made for an awkward conversation when the cabinet secretary arrived home after work yesterday.

For what it’s worth, a Slate  piece added, “There are appears to have been some vintage Carson bulls**t going on in that part about the chair. What’s been previously reported is that the dining room furniture was replaced in part because an aide was worried that an old chair might collapse under a guest, not that one had already collapsed.”

It’s quite a team Donald Trump has assembled.