Biden fires Architect of the Capitol over alleged abuses

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has fired embattled Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton, who oversees the historic building that houses Congress and its expansive grounds, as pressure mounted for his removal following a scathing inspector general report of personal and management lapses.

The White House said Monday that Blanton’s appointment was terminated. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Monday he’d lost confidence in Blanton’s ability to do the job.

An inspector general report released last year found “administrative, ethical and policy violations” by Blanton, a Trump-era appointee, including that he abused his government vehicle and misrepresented himself as a law enforcement official. A House hearing last week unearthed new questions and criticisms — including that he was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when it came under attack by former President Donald Trump's supporters.

“The Architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, no longer has my confidence to continue in his job. He should resign or President Biden should remove him immediately,” McCarthy said Monday in a tweet.

The speaker’s statement came as questions and criticism swirled around the architect, who is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the historic Capitol building and its surrounding 570-acre complex and grounds.

Blanton came under intense criticism after the inspector general report found Blanton allowed unauthorized use of his work vehicle, including by his wife and adult daughter, racking up nearly 30,000 miles — about triple the estimate for his official use.

At a House hearing last week, Blanton also came under fire when he testified that he was not at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack because it was a “telework” day under COVID-19 protocols.

He also faced fierce questions about Capitol tours he allowed and sometimes conducted despite pandemic restrictions.

On Monday, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., also called on Blanton to immediately resign.

“The Inspector General’s report was highly concerning,” Steil said. He said at last week’s hearing, Blanton’s “refusal to be transparent and truthful has made clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately.”

The investigation grew from a hotline tip about unauthorized use of his work vehicle that drew attention to his office.

The Office of the Inspector General report issued in October 2022 found that Blanton had “Abused His Authority, Misused Government Property and Wasted Taxpayer Money, Among Other Substantiated Violations.”

The inspector general said it received a hotline complaint on March 7, 2021, “concerning the misuse" of an AOC (Architect of the Capitol) vehicle.

It said the black Ford Explorer near the Walmart at Tyson’s Corner was driving “extremely reckless in the parking garage and swerving out of the garage at a high rate of speed, estimated to be about 65 miles per hour (mph) in a 30-mph zone.”

The complainant said the driver, a woman later identified to be Blanton’s adult daughter, “made obscene gestures toward them while at the stop sign outside the parking garage.”

The report said the family racked up miles on the vehicle beyond what was estimated for the architect’s official use, amounting to $13,926.56 in questioned costs. It said the daughter had referred to using the AOC’s fuel as “free gas.”

“The AOC OIG found overwhelming evidence that Blanton and his family continually misused AOC vehicles” intended for home-to-work use, the report said.

The report also found that Blanton used his official SUV on another occasion in 2020 to pursue a vehicle “involved in a hit-and-run incident that took place in front of his residence.” It said he led the police and others involved during the court proceeding to believe he was law enforcement.

The report also found “multiple social media posts” created by Blanton's wife about Capitol tours, including one reading “All PATRIOTS welcome."

The report said while the posts did not violate U.S. codes, “Offering private tours of the U.S. Capitol creates the appearance of impropriety and using a public position for private gain, which is a violation of AOC policy.”

Blanton was nominated in December 2019 by Trump as the 12th Architect of the Capitol, and confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate.

The architect’s job is sweeping and historic, responsible for maintenance and operation of the U.S. Capitol and its expansive grounds and building complex. Blanton, a former U.S. Naval officer, is a civil engineer and previously worked as deputy vice president at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.