Ben Carson refuses to guarantee no housing funds will benefit Trump

Former presidential candidate is accused of plagiarism in opening remarks at Senate confirmation hearing for housing secretary post

Ben Carson has refused to guarantee that no federal housing funds would benefit the Trump family should he be confirmed as the secretary of housing and urban development (Hud).

The retired neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate faced a pointed line of questioning during his Thursday hearing before a Senate committee, and although he said he will absolutely not play favorites for anyone, he declined to give a direct promise that none of the billions of dollars that Hud distributes in grants and loans would benefit the president-elect, his family, or their real estate holdings.

It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any American, he said. Its for all Americans, everything that we do.

The Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren repeatedly questioned Carson on the matter. Although Carson avoided directly answering her questions, he did say he would not cut or limit a program if someone gained money from it.

If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program thats working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone that youre targeting is going to gain, you know, $10 from it, am I going to say no, the rest of you Americans cant have it? I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way, he said.

Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, ended her careful line of questions to call for the passage of a law she and other Democrats proposed this week that would require Trump to place all of his assets in a blind trust.

She told Carson: The problem is that you cant assure us that Hud money, not of $10 varieties but of multimillion-dollar varieties, will not end up in the president-elects pockets. And the reason you cant assure us of that is because the president-elect is hiding his familys business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America. And this just highlights the absurdity and the danger of the president-elects refusal to put his assets in a true blind trust.

Warren criticized Trumps continued refusal to distance himself completely from his business empire before taking office. On Wednesday, in his first press conference since July, Trump and one of his lawyers said all control of Trumps business assets would be handed over to his adult sons. Trump has repeatedly ignored calls from ethics experts to create a blind trust. The head of the federal governments ethics agency made a rare public statement on Wednesday evening to say that Trumps proposal to put his children in charge of the business would not be satisfactory to avoid conflicts and broke with 40 years of precedent.

Before Carson faced Warrens questions, he delivered off-the-cuff opening remarks, speaking freely instead of reading directly from the written statement he had prepared and submitted in advance of Thursdays hearing.

At least a portion of those prepared remarks appear to have been plagiarized, reported the Washington Post, including two paragraphs copied word-for-word from a 2008 policy report published by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation. The text describes the dangers of lead paint and the impact that unsafe housing can have on health.

A spokesman for the president-elects transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Guardian, but told the Post that the mistake was in error and that a set of hyperlinks and footnotes meant to be included in the text seems to have fallen off.

Other senators on the committee questioned Carson on his personal background growing up in poverty, his lack of government experience, and his previously expressed desire to reduce government spending.

Carson, who has no government experience and no political experience aside from his failed bid to be the Republican nominee for president, spoke extensively about his upbringing and his work as a neurosurgeon and philanthropist. Republican senators questioning him on Thursday seemed largely unworried by the prospect of Carson running a large federal agency despite his lack of experience.

Senator Mike Rounds brushed aside such concerns, saying: It seems to me that probably running this department is not really brain surgery, and if you can handle that you most certainly have the abilities to step in and look at this with fresh eyes.

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