During a contentious exchange with Senator Elizabeth Warren during his confirmation hearing on Thursday, the former neurosurgeon and ex-rival of Trump struggled to answer her straightforward question: Would the next president or his family get a “single taxpayer dollar” from HUD?
“I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values,” Carson began to respond to Warren. “And therefore, I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.”
Warren said she wasn’t trying to ask a question about Carson’s “good faith.”
“My concern is whether or not among the billions of dollars that you will be responsible for handing out in grants and loans,” Warren continued. “Can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family?”
Carson attempted to respond but ended up phrasing his sentence in an unintentionally humorous manner.
“It will not be my intention to benefit any American. It’s for all Americans—everything that we do.”
Warren pressed on asking if he would manage any programs that could benefit Trump.
“You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people,” Carson responded. “That is going to be the goal. If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that’s working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone that you’re targeting is going to gain, you know, $10 from it. Am I going to say “No, the rest of you Americans can’t have it?” I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way.”
As the prospective HUD secretary wound his way through the answer, Warren believed that she had already proved her point: because Trump’s finances are so opaque, Carson cannot make a realistic promise that the president-elect would not benefit from any federally distributed money.
“The reason you can’t assure us of that is because the president-elect is hiding his family’s business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America,” Warren concluded.
The president-elect has benefited from government funding for his properties in a number of occasions. In New York, for instance, Trump was actually the first developer to get a public subsidy for one of his commercial projects with programs that were intended to be used for improving impoverished areas.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a former auditor general in New York City determined that Trump essentially cheated the city out of almost $2.9 million. In 2011, he even boasted to the newspaper about his ability to get local governments to bend to his whims.
“When I work for myself, I try to make the maximum profit," he said in an interview with the Times. "If I run [for president] and if I win, I will no longer care about myself. I'll be doing the same kind of things for this country.”
But even Trump’s current attempts at distancing himself from his business have ethics watchdogs concerned.
During a wild press conference on Wednesday, the president-elect promised to pass on the management of the Trump Organization to his children Donald Jr. and Eric, but the U.S. Office of Government Ethics blasted the plan.
“We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit,” Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of OGE said on Wednesday. “That’s why I was glad in November when the President-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, “in no way have a conflict of interest” with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.”
And Carson’s testimony doesn’t provide much hope on the matter either.