Over the weekend, we looked at allegations that HUD had broken the law by not kicking off disaster relief fund disbursement for Puerto Rico in a timely fashion following Hurricane Maria. HUD officials offered some reasons why they didn’t meet the deadline, but none of them seemed to be particularly persuasive under the circumstances.
At the time I noted that the press (and their friends, the Democrats) would likely take this opportunity to go after HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who has long been a target to tag some sort of scandal on. As the old saying goes… that didn’t take long. Carson was called before the House Financial Services Committee to answer questions about the delayed aid payments and came under fire from Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.). His answers were, to put it mildly, a bit lacking in specificity. (NBC News)
Carson justified HUD’s actions after Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., asked him “where in federal law is HUD empowered to withhold money that was supposed to got to Puerto Rico” during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
“A lot of what we do is dictated by common sense,” Carson responded without naming any specific laws…
“If it was not the inspector general, pushing for this delay, I wonder if this was politically motivated,” Velázquez told Carson. “Did anyone at the White House, including the president or the chief of staff, ask you to withhold money that was supposed to go to Puerto Rico?”
Carson said he was not willing to “put an unprecedented amount of money without the appropriate controls” in “a jurisdiction in which there are three changes of government within a month” and “has historically had difficulty with financial management.”
You can tell from the tone and direction of Velázquez’s questioning that she believes she’s caught a Trump administration official in a trap. And to gin up the proceedings even further, she asks (without any apparent source) whether or not the President ordered Carson to slow roll the aid package. She later took to Twitter to brag about her gotcha moment.
Today I asked HUD Secretary Carson if anyone at the White House instructed HUD to withhold recovery funds from #PuertoRico. He could not or would not provide a direct answer, so we'll continue pursuing the truth! pic.twitter.com/t72HNt6irn
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) October 22, 2019
Carson appears to have a problem here regardless of whether or not the Democrats can make a connection to Trump. None of the answers he’s giving (or refusing to give) are doing him any favors. When asked if the White House told him to withhold the money and if it was politically motivated, he answered a different question. And he’s still citing an Inspector General investigation, potentially revealing financial mismanagement and corruption, as the reason for the delay.
By not answering the first question (about possible White House involvement) he leaves a vacuum for the Democrats and the media to fill in on their own. If he’d never spoken to Trump about it, you’d expect him to say so. This lack of response offers the impression that he’s hiding something.
As to the previously stated reasons (which he repeated), those don’t help him either. First of all, the IG has already said that they hadn’t found anything relevant that would have made the disbursement of the funds questionable. But even if they had, that still doesn’t eliminate the fact that the law required HUD to process the request within a specific timeframe no matter how dodgy the recipient may have appeared. If anyone was going to take the fall for the money eventually being wasted or misappropriated in Puerto Rico, it would have been Congress, not HUD.
This didn’t look like all that big of a deal when it first cropped up, but now it seems that the Democrats have finally gotten their teeth into a legitimate scandal with Carson. And if they can tie Donald Trump into the mix that will just make it all the sweeter for them. If Carson winds up going down for this one it will be a self-inflicted wound because this should have been totally avoidable.