Trump Official Blames Obama for His $1 Million Office Redesign
Since the Trump administration moved in last year, there’s been an unspoken competition among Cabinet officials to spend as much taxpayer money as possible in the most questionable of ways. A favorite among the group, of course, has been refusing to come within 20 feet of coach, insisting instead on flying business or first class or, hell, just renting a private plane or borrowing a jet from the government. Also popular? Dropping tens of thousands—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—on office redesigns as though they’re Fortune 100 C.E.O.s and not government bureaucrats.
Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose department had its funding slashed in the latest White House budget, dropped $31,000 on a dining set for “safety” reasons. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the front-runner for Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official, invoiced taxpayers for a “brown maple wood stand-up desk with brass locks,” a second “oversize desk with decorative woodworking that some E.P.A. employees compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office” (cost of refurbishment: $2,075), and a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth, which, it turns out, was illegal for him to purchase without notifying Congress first. And to round out the club, on Tuesday afternoon we learned that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the people responsible for dragging us into a trade war with China, spent nearly $1 million to redecorate two of his offices.
According to the New York Post, Lighthizer spent $3,500 of taxpayer money on an antique desk, $859 on a hugely important 30-inch “Executive Office of the President” plaque, and $830 to “transport and install two paintings on loan from the Smithsonian.” In addition, he paid Executive Furniture of Washington, D.C., which specializes in high-end furniture and wood-finished desks, a whopping $475,000. For his staff, he splurged on 60 sit-stand desks ($18,500), a modular wall system ($290,000), and 90 Herman Miller Aeron office chairs ($54,000). But if you thought Lighthizer would take responsibility for the expenditures, think again:
When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration.
“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” Lighthizer’s office said in a statement.
(An official from Lighthizer’s office further explained to The Hive: “Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission.”)
Obama-era, unsurprisingly reps were having none of this explanation, telling the Post that they didn’t approve any major remodeling plans and that it was “laughable” Team Trump would try to pin this on them, considering the new administration had no problem pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day four of Trump’s presidency. “We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that,” an Obama trade official told the Post. “So furniture purchases cannot be as binding.”
As for whether Lighthizer will suffer any consequences for the pricey interior design choices, the odds are about as likely as Trump blurbing a second print run of James Comey’s book. Though the president is indeed on a firing spree, ethical transgressions like Lighthizer’s seem only to improve one’s standing with the boss. If Pruitt can hang on after his office decor spending spree, shady housing arrangement, and insistence on outfitting his official business car like it’s the Batmobile, then Lighthizer should be just fine.