Pres. Biden fires Architect of the Capitol over alleged abuses
The firing comes as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he’d lost confidence in Blanton’s ability to do the job.LEARN MORE
Scripps News learns why a top official at the U.S. Capitol has been able to keep his job despite multiple claims of misconduct.
J. Brett Blanton, a key official at the U.S. Capitol, is likely to face questions for the first time Thursday from lawmakers about a damning inspector general's report that accused him of misusing government property, wasting taxpayer dollars and impersonating law enforcement.
Blanton is scheduled to testify at an oversight hearing at the Committee on House Administration.
He serves as Architect of the Capitol, in charge of maintaining and securing the buildings and grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court.
A Scripps News investigation detailed how Blanton has been able to avoid accountability in the months after the November report went public.
"He absolutely should resign," said Donald K. Sherman, senior vice president and chief at the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Even though maybe people have never heard of it, this is a critically important job … to make sure that Congress can function effectively and efficiently and safely."
The inspector general's report was a stunning condemnation of a sitting government official, beginning with a claim that Blanton allowed his family to drive law enforcement-equipped vehicles outfitted with emergency lights and sirens.
The report says the vehicles, intended for work use only, were frequently driven by Blanton family members, including to South Carolina and Florida for vacation.
There was also a weekend trip to a craft brewery where one of the vehicles was involved in a fender bender, the investigation found.
The report says Blanton told the other driver he was an "agent" and that "the government would handle the insurance claim."
The repairs cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1,400.
It was a trip to Walmart that initially set off investigators.
A taxpayer called a fraud tipline to complain about a vehicle with a government license plate being driven erratically by a young woman who also made an obscene gesture.
The driver was Blanton's daughter, the report says, who told the inspector general that her father had given her permission to drive the car, and that she ferried around her friends.
"Free gas" is how she referred to driving on the government's dime, only it wasn't free for U.S. taxpayers. The additional miles and wear and tear on these government vehicles amounted to $12,434 "in unreported fringe benefits to Blanton," according to the inspector general.
"It's rare to see folks, especially agency heads, misuse thousands of dollars of money to their personal benefit," Sherman said.
Before Congress, Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton defended his behavior, including the use of official vehicles for personal business.LEARN MORE
"It's not supposed to happen, and it doesn't happen very often. That's what makes Mr. Blanton an outlier, among other things."
The report also said Blanton falsely identified himself as an "off-duty D.C. police officer" after using one of his government vehicles to pursue a driver who hit a car belonging to his daughter's boyfriend.
The inspector general details how Blanton in 2021 asked for a bench seat to be added to a new government vehicle "at the request of his daughters to have more room for guests"
Blanton has not publicly addressed the report's charges.
He has declined all of Scripps News' requests for an interview and never responded to our emailed questions.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, chaired the Committee on House Administration when the allegations against Blanton first came to light.
The committee, which will hear from Blanton on Thursday, is one of four congressional panels with oversight authority of the Architect of the Capitol.
Lofgren and other Democrats called on Blanton to resign, but Lofgren told Scripps News there was no way to force him out.
"We don't have the authority," Lofgren said. "That position is appointed by the president of the United States."
President Trump nominated Blanton to a 10-year term in 2019.
Scripps News found that while the president is the one who hires the Architect of the Capitol, the law does not say who has the authority to fire him.
Lofgren says that should not prevent Biden from terminating Blanton.
"I think the former president, ex-President Trump, made it clear that the president can fire whoever he wants," she said.
President Biden's administration has not taken any action to remove Blanton, declining to answer questions about him.
"Certainly we will take it back and reach out to you with where we are on that," said White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre on Jan. 25.
The White House has yet to respond since then.
In the meantime, Blanton seems to be benefiting from his low profile.
Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, is the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee that also has power over the office of Architect of the Capitol.
He told Scripps News he had not seen the inspector general's report.
"I'll have to be briefed on that," Comer said.
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