The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) opened the probe in February 2018 after media reporting raised questions about whether Carson misused his position by letting his son, Ben Carson Jr., invite certain companies or people to take part in a listening tour in Baltimore, Maryland.
The investigation was expanded in March 2019 after American Oversight, a watchdog group, said it obtained records that showed Carson Jr. was deeply involved in orchestrating the tour and that a subsequent HUD grant may have been influenced by Carson Jr.’s business interests.
But the inspector general’s office stated in a 25-page report released this week that the evidence it gathered “does not establish that Secretary Carson used his government position for the personal benefit of his son, Carson Jr.”
The evidence shows Carson Jr. did recommend or make contact with at least nine people or groups that HUD officials ultimately invited to attend at least one part of the two-day tour, which took place in 2017. It showed Carson Jr. became involved after Carson suggested to subordinates that they should seek his advice regarding potential invitees.
Carson told the inspector general’s office that he made the suggestion because a subordinate expressed concerns about delays she was encountering in identifying and selecting tour participants and because he thought his son’s connections in the Baltimore business community could be helpful to officials planning the tour.
Carson said he made it clear to his son that he shouldn’t attempt to use his father’s position for his own personal gain.
Carson Jr. declined to be interviewed by the inspector general’s office, but emails and business records and information obtained from his lawyer “did not indicate that Carson Jr. secured a direct financial benefit” through his involvement with the tour, the inspector general’s office said, adding that the investigation also found that Carson Jr.’s business interests didn’t affect HUD decision-making related to Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood.
Still, the office said Carson could have handled the situation better.
“Despite the lack of evidence to substantiate allegations that Secretary Carson used his government position to financially benefit Carson Jr., the evidence does suggest that Secretary Carson could have done more to avoid the appearance that he was not complying with federal ethics regulations,” the report stated.
Career HUD ethics officials told Carson that allowing his son to remain involved with the tour could be perceived as a conflict of interest, but the secretary chose to allow his son to make the decision on whether to stay involved, and his son ended up appearing at events on both days of the tour.
A request for comment sent to a HUD spokesperson wasn’t immediately returned.
The inspector general’s office stated before launching the probe that Carson’s office requested that it review what happened.
In a statement around that time, Carson said his goal on the tour “was to listen and help the people of Baltimore have access to safe affordable housing.”
“In my role as HUD Secretary, I try to be as inclusive as possible and talk with a wide variety of people because when it comes to increasing access to affordable housing, no rock should remain unturned,” he said. “From my very first day at HUD I have insisted that HUD operate in an open and ethical manner, in every way. To clear up any suspicion I am calling for the HUD Inspector General to review this matter.”
Carson was cleared in 2019 of any misconduct in the ordering of office furniture.