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Biden fires architect of the Capitol after Trump appointee criticized

Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton speaks during a press conference hosted by the U.S. Capitol Police Board on Capitol Hill on Jan. 4, 2022 in D.C. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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President Biden has fired architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, an appointee of former president Donald Trump who faced calls to resign from Republicans and Democrats after an inspector general report found ethical and administrative violations.

The ouster of Blanton came just hours after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) joined the growing list demanding that Blanton resign or be relieved of his duties.

Blanton, who oversaw the operation of some of the nation’s most historic buildings, was accused last year by his office’s inspector general of using government vehicles for family getaways and misrepresenting himself as a law enforcement officer.

“After being given the opportunity to respond to numerous allegations of legal, ethical, and administrative violations, and failing to directly respond, the President has removed Mr. Brett Blanton from his position — a decision I firmly stand behind,” said Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

“President Biden did the right thing and heeded my call for action. I look forward to working with my colleagues to begin a search for a new architect immediately,” Morelle said.

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the personnel matter, said that “after doing our due diligence, the Architect of [the] Capitol was terminated at the President’s direction.”

Blanton’s firing comes three years into what was supposed to be a 10-year-long term. He was first nominated to the post by Trump on Dec. 9, 2019, and confirmed by a voice vote in the Republican-led Senate 10 days later. He was sworn in Jan. 16, 2020.

Last week, Blanton generated more criticism during a House committee hearing when he testified that he avoided going to the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Blanton, who is a member of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, said that he thought it wouldn’t be “prudent” to drive to work that day and it “would not have been practical.”

Blanton argued that getting inside the building would have been impossible “because of the security situation” and the “thousands of people that were blocking the access.”

“Protecting the Capitol, members of Congress, staff, and democracy are not partisan issues,” Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), a member of the House Administration Committee, tweeted Monday. “@POTUS made the right decision to terminate Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton for abusing his office.”

Architect of the Capitol abused car privileges, posed as law enforcement, report says

Blanton committed “administrative, ethical and policy violations,” according to the Oct. 26 report by the Office of Inspector General, which also said it identified “evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation.”

Blanton “misled and provided false information to investigators on multiple occasions,” including by using taxpayer dollars to “fund an additional personal vehicle for his family,” the report said.

“Blanton’s actions have violated every pillar the OIG operates under including theft, fraud, waste and abuse against not only the AOC but also the taxpayer,” the report said.

The investigation found that Blanton and his family repeatedly used his office’s SUVs for weekend trips to a Loudoun County craft brewery, destinations in Florida and South Carolina, and “general family use.”

The vehicles were often driven by his spouse, Michelle, and their adult daughter without him in the vehicle. His daughter “advised the OIG that her father had given her permission” to use the government cars, the report said. “She had transported both her friends and boyfriend in the vehicle and referred to using the AOC’s fuel as ‘free gas.’ ”

In one instance, Blanton misrepresented himself and pretended to be a member of law enforcement, using his government Jeep Cherokee in June 2020 to chase a car that struck his daughter’s boyfriend’s vehicle near their home. The suspect’s lawyer said Blanton made “an affirmative action” when asked if he was “law enforcement” while the hit-and-run was under investigation, according to the report. The Fairfax County police report identified Blanton as an “off-duty D.C. police officer.”

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During last week’s hearing, Blanton dismissed the notion that he’d done anything unethical during his time as architect of the Capitol. The inspector general report, he claimed, was “filled with errors,” though he added that he hadn’t had a chance to read the full report.

“I wholeheartedly reject any assertion that I have engaged in unethical behavior during my service to this country while serving in this particular role, I have taken my commitment to transform the agency’s culture to promote positive workplace for every AOC employee,” Blanton said. “I have fully invested to ensure that I meet the responsibilities and the expectations of this role.”

During the hearing, Blanton also claimed that members of his family felt “pressured” to make statements that “weren’t actually accurate” when speaking to the Office of Inspector General. When asked, repeatedly, by Morelle whether he was aware that his family members were using the federally owned vehicle without his presence, Blanton said, “my recollection is no.”

“I can’t say 100 percent definitively because that may have occurred, or it may not have occurred,” he added.