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Biden fires the architect of the Capitol after bipartisan criticism from lawmakers

Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton was fired by President Biden Monday for a series of ethical violations, including his not being present on the grounds during the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol.
Greg Nash
/
AP
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton was fired by President Biden Monday for a series of ethical violations, including his not being present on the grounds during the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol.

Updated February 13, 2023 at 7:24 PM ET

President Biden fired Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton Monday after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle demanded he resign or be fired.

Blanton was responsible for the upkeep and operation of over 18 million square feet of buildings and 570 acres of land throughout the U.S. Capitol complex.

An investigation conducted by the Architect of the Capitol Inspector General's Office found Blanton had "abused his authority, misused government property and wasted taxpayer money, among other substantiated violations."

The president fired Blanton after the White House did "due diligence," a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues.

The inspector general's report was released last fall, but Blanton found himself in the hot seat again last week during a House Administration Committee hearing, where he told lawmakers that he wasn't on the grounds during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Blanton told committee members at last Thursday's hearing that he was "directing AOC personnel" from his government vehicle, which he said served as "AOC's mobile command post," during the riot — but not on the Capitol grounds.

He noted that the vehicle has a Capitol Police Department radio that he used to get real-time information to make leadership decisions during the riot.

In his opening statement, Blanton told the committee that he was "frustrated" with the OIG's report, which he said follows what he called a "predetermined" narrative based on what he considers "picked facts."

"I wholeheartedly reject any assertation that I've engaged in unethical behavior during my service to this country," Blanton said. "Since I have only had the opportunity to read the Inspector General's summary report, I can only speak to the language that I have seen. I will say that the report is filled with errors, omissions, mischaracterizations, misstatements and conclusionary statements lacking evidence."

Wisconsin Rep. Bryan Steil, the Republican heading the committee, asked if Blanton had impersonated a law enforcement officer, as alleged in the report. Blanton rebutted that he had identified himself as a member of the Capitol Police Board, which he is, and not an officer.

When asked if he had used a government vehicle for personal use, Blanton said that he wouldn't characterize his use of the vehicle as personal. In his opening statement he had noted that the AOC vehicle is to allow the architect to support the Capitol in a remote capacity, and that "it is inaccurate to characterize the state of the vehicle is only for home to work purposes."

The AOC IG report also details a minor accident involving Blanton at a Virginia brewery involving another driver who backed into the government SUV while it was improperly parked. "Blanton told the other party involved that it was a government vehicle, he was an 'agent' and he did not have insurance information because the government would handle the insurance claim," according to the report.

Steil called for Blanton's resignation Monday

"The Inspector General's report was highly concerning, which is, in part, why our first hearing was dedicated to providing oversight over the AOC," Steil said. "His refusal to be transparent and truthful has made clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also called for Blanton's dismissal Monday.

"The Architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, no longer has my confidence to continue in his job. He should resign or President Biden should remove him immediately," McCarthy tweeted.

NPR's Scott Detrow contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.