Architect of the Capitol accused of rampant ethical abuses in bombshell report

The Grift Lives On

Architect of the Capitol accused of rampant ethical abuses in bombshell report

The United States Capitol. (Andy Feliciotti/Unsplash)

In a shocking new watchdog report released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Architect of the Capitol (AOC) J. Brett Blanton and his family have been accused of committing a slew of ethical violations, including offering unauthorized tours of the United States Capitol complex to “patriots” in the days leading up to the November 2020 election and commandeering government SUVs for vacations.

“The OIG identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation,” the report detailed. “Blanton misled and provided false information to investigators on multiple occasions. Blanton used taxpayer dollars to fund an additional personal vehicle for his family.”

The OIG went on to describe its dedicated role in “promoting economy and efficiency and preventing and detecting fraud, waste and abuse within the AOC’s programs and operations.

“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 laundry list of transgressions detailed in the 10-page OIG report include unauthorized vehicle use, misrepresentation of position, appropriations violations, and multiple ethics violations. As mentioned, the most eyebrow-raising among the violations detailed in the report are perhaps the social media posts shared by Blanton’s wife extending invites for unsanctioned tours of the Capitol.

The report details:

“Throughout the investigation, the OIG obtained multiple social media posts created by M. Blanton [Michelle Blanton, the AOC’s wife], including photographs of congressional license plates and a photograph of her and Blanton on September 30, 2020, from the dome of the U.S. Capitol with a comment stating, ‘This is happening!!!’ and ‘All PATRIOTS welcome…PM me ;).’ The specific comment was then later edited to read ‘*Patriots=Americans who love America. Not a candidate.’ On the same date, an additional photograph taken from the U.S. Capitol was posted with the comment, ‘Contact me for a private tour. All PATRIOTS accepted!’ While it is not against AOC policy to post photographs from the U.S. Capitol, M. Blanton openly offered tours of the building while it was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, on December 28, 2021, M. Blanton publicly published images and comments on social media stating she took her swim team on a tour of the U.S. Capitol while it was still closed to the public. None of the posts or photographs are specifically in violation of U.S. Code (U.S.C.); however, 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.”

Another complaint, which the OIG received via a hotline number, involved a government vehicle with AOC plates being operated with extreme recklessness at a Walmart parking garage near Tysons Corner, Virginia. The driver and passenger in said vehicle, who also made obscene gestures to the complainant as they were peeling away, were later identified by the OIG as Blanton’s daughters. Per the report, a previous complaint from a private citizen had been made about the same vehicle, a black Ford Explorer.

Yet another incident involved a hit-and-run incident near Blanton’s home in which he was identified by responding officers as an “off-duty D.C. police officer.”

Per the Washington Post, Blanton and his family logged a total of 30,000 miles in travel using government SUVS from January 2020 to February 2022, roughly three times the 10,400 miles involved with Blanton commuting to and from his Virginia home to his workplace in Washington, D.C. during this period. These vehicles were reportedly used for family trips to Florida and other out-of-state locales.

Blanton, a Trump appointee, is an airport and naval engineer (not a licensed architect like his predecessors) who retired from the Navy Civil Engineer Corps in 2015. Prior to his confirmation in January 2020, he served as deputy vice president for engineering at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The AOC, a role that carries with it a 10-year term, oversees the continued maintenance and operation of the U.S. Capitol and surrounding 570 acres of grounds, as well as the Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court, and a litany of other historic buildings and the artworks they contain. The AOC’s Office of Security Program manages the Capitol Police Buildings, Grounds and Security team, which is responsible for securing and hardening the Capitol campus. Blanton also sits on the Capitol Police board.

There were aggressive calls for Blanton’s resignation immediately following the shocking violence that unfolded during the January 6, 2021 insurrection. He obviously did not step down although the House Sergeant at Arms, Senate Sergeant at Arms, and Capitol Chief-of-Police, all of whom also served on the Capitol Police board alongside Blanton at the time, resigned shortly after the breach of the Capitol and have since been replaced.

Blanton later detailed the millions of dollars in damages to the Capitol during the deadly January 6 melee.

While Blanton came under intense scrutiny in the days, weeks, and months following January 6, that scrutiny eventually fell away as clean-up and repairs at the Capitol commenced. With the IG’s new report, however, calls for his resignation have been resurrected albeit for different reasons. “Based on the overwhelming evidence of misconduct outlined in this report, Mr. Blanton must resign. He should be held accountable and reimburse the government,” read a joint statement issued yesterday by six top Democrats who chair committees that oversee the office of the AOC. That statement was shared was shared by the Washington Post.

Per the report, the OIG first presented the myriad offenses to the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO), which then brought in the FBI to investigate. After five months of “discussion and collaboration,” however, the FBI declined to proceed. The U.S. Attorney’s office then assigned “an internal criminal investigator” to look into the findings. After 10 months of the joint investigation it was “ultimately decided not to pursue criminal prosecution in Washington, D.C., or the Eastern District of Virginia,” the report explained. “The USAO referred the case back to the OIG for administrative violations and referrals to other law enforcement and government agencies as per the Inspector General Act of 1978.”

As noted by the Washingtonian, the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has also called for the removal of Blanton in light of the damning OIG report although removing an AOC before their 10-year term expires could prove to be tricky as there is no mechanism in place to do. “This is in many ways uncharted territory,” Donald K. Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel of CREW, told the Washingtonian.

If Blanton refuses to resign despite the mounting pressure, President Biden could potentially fire him, which he has not yet signaled a desire to do.

Inquiries directed to Blanton and the sizable governmental agency that he oversees by multiple news outlets have not been returned. We’ll follow up with additional development as we learn more.