POLITICS

Biden fires Capitol architect over alleged abuses – KGET 17

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has fired embattled Capitol architect Brett Blanton, who oversees the historic building that houses Congress and its sprawling grounds, amid pressure to oust him following a scathing inspector general’s report of personal and management failings.

The White House announced Monday that Blanton’s appointment had been terminated. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Monday that he has lost confidence in Blanton’s ability to get the job done.

An inspector general’s report released last year found “administrative, ethical and policy violations” by Blanton, a Trump-era appointee, including misusing his government vehicle and impersonating a law enforcement officer. A House hearing last week revealed new questions and criticism — including that he was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when he was attacked by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“The architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, no longer has my confidence to continue his job. He should resign or President Biden should fire him immediately,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter on Monday.

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 the surrounding 570-acre complex.

Blanton has come under intense criticism after an inspector general’s report found that Blanton allowed unauthorized use of his work vehicle, including by his wife and adult daughter, driving nearly 30,000 miles — about three times 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 “work-around” day under COVID-19 protocols.

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

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

“The inspector general’s report was very troubling,” Steil said. He said at last week’s hearing that Blanton’s “refusal to be transparent and honest has made it clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately.”

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

A report by the Office of the Inspector General released in October 2022 found that Blanton “abused his authority, misused government property and wasted taxpayer money, among other substantiated violations.”

The inspector general said he received a hotline complaint on March 7, 2021, “regarding the abuse” of an AOC (Architect of the Capitol) vehicle.

It said a black Ford Explorer near Walmart on Tyson’s Corner was driven “extremely recklessly into the parking garage and exited the garage at a high rate of speed, estimated to be approximately 65 miles per hour (mph) in a 30 mph zone.”

The complainant said the driver, a woman later identified as Blanton’s adult daughter, “made obscene gestures toward them while she was at a stop sign in front of 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 questionable expenses. The daughter was said to have used AOC fuel as “free gas”.

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

The report also found that on another occasion in 2020, Blanton used his official SUV to pursue a vehicle “involved in an incident that occurred in front of his residence.” It alleges that he led the police and others involved during the court proceedings to believe that he was a police officer.

The report also found “multiple social media posts” created by Blanton’s wife about tours of the Capitol, including one with the caption “All PATRIOTS welcome.”

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

In December 2019, Blanton was nominated by Trump to be the 12th architect of the Capitol, and confirmed to the post by the US Senate.

The job of an architect is broad and historic, responsible for the maintenance and operation of the US Capitol and its extensive grounds and complex of buildings. Blanton, a former US Navy officer, is a civil engineer and previously served as deputy vice president at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

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