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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Democrats call for architect of Capitol to resign over ethics report

By Joe Davidson Washington Post

Democratic lawmakers are calling for the resignation of J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, over a scathing federal watchdog report that found he abused his authority, misused government property and wasted taxpayer money, “among other substantiated violations.”

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for Blanton’s agency, which is charged with maintaining and operating the Capitol, found that he used government vehicles for personal purposes, including vacation travel, then lied about it, and that he allegedly impersonated a police officer.

The Democratic chairs of committees that oversee the agency say the report makes it clear he cannot continue in the job.

“Based on the overwhelming evidence of misconduct outlined in this report, Mr. Blanton must resign. He should be held accountable and reimburse the government,” said a statement issued Tuesday by six top Democrats who chair committees that oversee the agency.

If Blanton, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, does not resign, the decision would fall to President Biden on whether to fire him. Congress also could remove Blanton through a laborious impeachment process.

Neither Blanton nor the agency, also called the Architect of the Capitol, responded to requests for comment.

Investigators “identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation,” the report said. “Blanton misled and provided false information to investigators on multiple occasions… . Blanton’s actions have violated every pillar the OIG operates under including theft, fraud, waste and abuse.”

The Justice Department has declined to prosecute Blanton on the inspector general’s findings. Those findings have also been provided to Virginia’s commonwealth attorney’s office for consideration; the attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Architect of the Capitol is a congressional agency and the title of the agency’s leader. It has 2,000 employees who maintain the Capitol complex with its 18.4 million square feet of facilities, 570 acres of grounds and many precious works of art.

Shortly after Blanton took office in January 2020, he promised to “transform the culture to one of transparency, accountability and responsiveness.”

Based on the inspector general’s findings, that statement was an example of “do as I say, not as I do.”

In his capacity as a member of the Capitol Police Board, Blanton has used government vehicles outfitted with police radios, light and sirens, accessories associated with law enforcement officers, which he is not.

Yet that did not stop him from one of the more egregious allegations of government property abuse.

In June 2020, according to the report, Blanton “activated the emergency equipment” to pursue a car that had struck his daughter’s boyfriend’s vehicle in a hit-and-run incident. Blanton allegedly impersonated a police officer or led local law enforcement to believe he was a cop.

“Interviews confirmed that, based on Blanton’s statements, affirmative movements, use of a law-enforcement-equipped vehicle and credentials, the Fairfax County Police Officers, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney and defense counsel for the suspect,” investigators found, “all believed Blanton was an off-duty law enforcement officer throughout the entire court proceedings.”

The inspector general’s office began its investigation after a March 2021 hotline complaint about a black Ford Explorer with license plate AOC 053A “driving extremely reckless in the parking garage [of a Vienna, Va., Walmart] 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.”

Investigators later identified the driver and passenger as Blanton’s daughters.

Additionally, government vehicles meant for home-to-work travel by “Blanton were consistently used as personal vehicles by both Blanton and his family for weekend trips to a craft brewery, out-of-town trips and general family use,” according to the report. Blanton’s wife, Michelle Blanton, and his daughter Reilly Blanton drove the vehicles “on a regular basis without him in the vehicle.”

Investigators also determined that a Jeep Grand Cherokee assigned to J. Brett Blanton “traveled to both South Carolina and Florida during the time Blanton was on annual leave in August 2020.”

When the agency decided to purchase a 2021 Ford Explorer ST, Blanton requested “a covert Washington, D.C., license plate,” the report said, “making it more difficult and less transparent to track” future complaints.

Adding to the allegations, the investigators said Michelle Blanton posted social media pictures of taking her swim team on a tour of the Capitol when it was closed to the public because of the pandemic. That did not violate the law, but the report said it did create “the appearance of impropriety and using a public position for private gain, which is a violation of AOC policy.”