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Biden removes top Capitol administrator after report alleges abuse of power

An inspector general's report said Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton "abused his authority," "misused government property" and "wasted taxpayer money."
J. Brett Blanton, Architect of the Capitol, speaks during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 29, 2022, on the West Front of the Capitol.
J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, speaks at the Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting on Nov. 29.Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

President Joe Biden has fired Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, a White House official told NBC News on Monday, in the wake of a report that said he had abused his authority and misused taxpayer money overseeing the Capitol complex.

“After doing our due diligence, the Architect of [the] Capitol was terminated at the President’s direction,” the official said in a statement.

NBC News has asked Blanton's office for comment.

Blanton was dismissed months after an inspector general’s report substantiated claims that he had abused his authority. Last week, he was pressed about those findings and other issues, such as his absence from the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, as he was testifying before the House Administration Committee.

At the hearing, Blanton said he was “frustrated by the current distraction created by the inspector general’s report.”

“I wholeheartedly reject any assertion I have engaged in unethical behavior during my service to this country,” he said.

Committee Chair Bryan Steil, R-Wis., called on Blanton to resign Monday, saying in a statement that his "refusal to be transparent and truthful has made clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately."

The call was echoed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who tweeted that Blanton "no longer has my confidence to continue in his job.”

“He should resign or President Biden should remove him immediately," McCarthy wrote.

Blanton could be removed only by the president because the architect of the Capitol is a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate. Blanton was nominated to a 10-year term by former President Donald Trump; he started the job in January 2020.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NBC News, “I agree with the president’s decision to fire the architect."

"We took a look at the whole situation, having dealt with this guy for a while, and I think the president made the right decision,” he said.

The inspector general’s report, released in October, said Blanton had misused his government vehicle by driving it to vacation destinations and allowing his family to use it for personal matters. The report also said Blanton mischaracterized his government position, at one point chasing down a vehicle that was described as having been involved in a hit-and-run and misrepresenting himself as a law enforcement official. In another instance, he called himself an "agent" after he got in an accident at a brewery while using the vehicle on vacation, the report found.

The misuse of the government vehicle resulted in "no less than $13,926.56 as net questioned costs," the report found.

Blanton maintained at last week’s hearing that he needed to take the car with him on personal errands and vacations in case he needed to return to the Capitol or respond to an emergency, because it was equipped with certain communications devices. He referred to it as "an alternate work site" and said having to switch vehicles would slow him down.

"If I'm at Home Depot and something happens, there would be a delayed response getting to the Capitol," Blanton told lawmakers.

Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., asked how that squared with the inspector general report's finding that Blanton's wife and daughter would sometimes take the car without him. "You would have to address that with members of my family," Blanton responded.

Morelle also pressed him about why he didn't use the car to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, the "greatest emergency the Capitol has faced in the last two centuries."

Blanton said it "would have been not prudent" to drive to the Capitol that day because of the crowds, and he told the panel of lawmakers that he instead used the car as his "mobile command center" during the attack.

In a statement Monday, Morelle praised Biden for doing "the right thing" by dismissing Blanton.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues to begin a search for a new Architect immediately,” he said.

Blanton was the only member of the Capitol Police Board who still had a job after the Jan. 6 riot. The board consists of the House sergeant at arms, the Senate sergeant at arms and doorkeeper and the architect of the Capitol.