Report from internal watchdog said J. Brett Blanton misused government vehicles and impersonated a police officer
WASHINGTON—The White House said President Biden fired the U.S. Architect of the Capitol amid accusations by an internal watchdog that he misused government vehicles and impersonated a police officer.
The White House said J. Brett Blanton was removed after the administration conducted its due diligence of the situation. He was informed Monday in a letter from Gautam Raghavan, assistant to the president for presidential personnel, that his appointment was terminated effective 5 p.m., according to a copy of the letter reviewed by the Journal.
The decision came “at the direction of President Biden,” Mr. Raghavan wrote.
The move came after lawmakers, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), had called for the resignation of the steward of the U.S. Capitol complex.
Mr. McCarthy said in a tweet Monday that Mr. Blanton “no longer has my confidence to continue in his job” and should resign or be removed by President Biden. Mr. Blanton has denied wrongdoing.
The White House official said the president made the decision to fire Mr. Blanton before Mr. McCarthy’s tweet was issued.
The Architect of the Capitol runs a federal agency of about 2,400 workers responsible for the operations and care of the U.S. Capitol complex as well as the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. The official also sits on the board of the Capitol Police alongside the chief of the Capitol Police and the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.
“I wholeheartedly reject any association that I have engaged in unethical behavior during my service to this country,” Mr. Blanton told lawmakers at a House hearing last week.
Mr. Blanton couldn’t immediately be reached to comment on Monday.
Calls for Mr. Blanton’s resignation come after the Architect of the Capitol’s internal watchdog said in an October report that Mr. Blanton routinely misused government vehicles for personal use, including for weekend getaways to a craft brewery and out-of-town trips to as far as Florida.
He also impersonated a law-enforcement official to pursue the alleged culprit behind a hit-and-run incident in front of his home in June 2020 that damaged a car belonging to his adult daughter’s boyfriend, according to the report. Mr. Blanton’s actions following the incident, including using a work vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens to track down the suspect, led police to incorrectly assume he was an off-duty law-enforcement officer, the watchdog found.
Mr. Blanton denied representing himself as law enforcement, the report said.
Calls for Mr. Blanton’s resignation had picked up since the House Administration Committee held a Feb. 9 hearing examining the Architect of the Capitol, which is overseen by the panel. In addition to denying wrongdoing, Mr. Blanton, who testified at the hearing, characterized the watchdog’s October report as a frustrating distraction.
Mr. Blanton angered Republicans and Democrats with his testimony, both over what they called a lack of a credible defense of his alleged ethical breaches and also his description of his actions on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021 riot. He said he didn’t go to work on Capitol Hill that day but instead used a work vehicle as a “mobile command post.”
Rep. Stephanie Bice (R., Okla.) said she found it “mind-blowing” that Mr. Blanton “would not have been in this building ensuring the safety and security, not only of the building, but the employees that you lead.”
Mr. Blanton was nominated for the post, which has a 10-year term, by former President Donald Trump in December 2019 and was confirmed later that month.
Though Mr. Blanton sits on the board of the U.S. Capitol Police and is given credentials that allow him access to police information and secured areas, the credentials “specifically do not delegate law enforcement authority,” the internal watchdog said.