February 28, 2018

Chris Hayes closed out his show last night with the story of HUD Secretary Ben Carson, grifting away with fancy office dining furniture, allegedly insisted upon by his wife. New York Times:

Department of Housing and Urban Development officials spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017 — just as the White House circulated its plans to slash HUD’s programs for the homeless, elderly and poor, according to federal procurement records.

The purchase of the custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch came a month after a top agency staff member filed a whistle-blower complaint charging Mr. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, with pressuring department officials to find money for the expensive redecoration of his offices, even if it meant circumventing the law.

Mr. Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it, said Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman.

Hayes hosted panelists Shermichael Singleton, a former communications director for Ben Carson, and Chris Liu, a Cabinet secretary under Obama.

Singleton described Ben Carson as a "frugal person" (when it's his money?). But Singleton is also the first Republican I've seen on TV specifically call out Republican speakers for hypocrisy on the ethics front. My eyebrows went up when he said "if a Democrat did it."

The information provided by Chris Liu made Chris Hayes say 'wow' more than once. Liu takes this opportunity to do the math: minimum wage workers don't make in a year what that one stupid dining set cost. (And as of 2015 more than half of American workers don't make that much, $30K, in a year.) Obama appointees were not allowed to take the high-priced Accela trains from New York to Washington DC -- ever. And Liu approved every single trip taken by a cabinet officer and his wife during the Obama presidency. Every single one.

CHRIS LIU: The message gets sent from the top. Ethics was important because ethics were important to Barack Obama. We screened all travel. I looked at every trip every cabinet member took.

CHRIS HAYES: Wait, really? You did?

LIU: Every single week I saw every one. They were going to locations they shouldn't have been going to or to their own hometowns, I would pick up the phone and call them. We vetted people. We required them to fill out financial disclosures. They did it once and well. More importantly, we vetted people before we put people in the jobs to make sure they didn't have a previous history of conflicts of interest or questionable conduct along the way. Look, we weren't perfect. We certainly made some mistakes but the tone of ethics was set from the very top and it's something we reinforced every single day.

I remember the Obama vetting process in detail, because my then future and now current spouse Driftglass was a Chicago workforce development guy who might have fit perfectly in one of several positions, were it not that he sometimes used the eff word (among others) on the internet. And Barack Obama checked on that, very specifically, before considering you for a job.

Which is hilarious, when you consider that Rahm "eff you and your sister" Emmanuel was Obama's first chief of staff, but nevermind.

There's a reason why the Obama White House ended its eight-year stint with a grand total of zero indictments. And why the Trump White House...sorry I've lost count.

When the next Democratic president takes office I promise I won't force Driftglass to buy a thirty-one thousand dollar dinette set for the office. That seems to be the standard for ethics now.

UPDATE: But wait, there's more!

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