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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden removes the top Capitol facilities official amid allegations of wrongdoing

By Stephanie Lai

President Joe Biden on Monday fired J. Brett Blanton, the federal official responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Capitol complex, amid bipartisan calls for his resignation, after an investigative report accusing him of misusing his position and revelations that he avoided the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

Blanton, who was appointed in 2019 as the architect of the Capitol, had been under scrutiny for more than a year after a report by the inspector general of his office in 2021 documented evidence supporting serious allegations against Blanton, including that he had misused his office vehicle, misled investigators and impersonated a police officer on multiple occasions.

But concerns among lawmakers in both parties intensified at a 90-minute hearing on Friday in which Blanton gave noncommittal and at times contradictory answers about his conduct, including his decision to stay away from the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.

On Monday morning, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter that Blanton “no longer has my confidence to continue in his job,” and should resign or be removed by Biden.

A White House official said that after conducting due diligence on the matter, the president had directed that Blanton be fired.

Rep. Joseph D. Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, which oversees Capitol operations, said in a statement that he agreed with the decision.

“President Biden did the right thing and heeded my call for action,” he said.

The architect of the Capitol’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Blanton’s removal.

The inspector general report found that Blanton and his family had repeatedly made personal use of a government-issued vehicle intended for day-to-day operations at the Capitol and official emergencies. Blanton, who used his vehicles to travel to locations including South Carolina and Florida, racked up mileage that was almost three times more than anticipated. The inspector general’s report found that the vehicle misuse equated to about $14,000 in unreported tax benefits.

Blanton admitted to using his vehicle for personal trips, but said he had done so in case he had to rush back to the Capitol for an emergency.

At the hearing last week before the administration panel, as he tried to justify the use of his government car, Blanton further infuriated lawmakers when he admitted that he was not present during the Jan. 6 attack.

He said he had been corresponding with his team via a radio system installed in his official vehicle instead of coming to the Capitol that day because he thought it would not be “prudent” to drive to work as thousands of protesters blocked access to the complex.

That drew indignant responses from lawmakers in both parties.

“I’m trying to understand why you physically weren’t here on a pretty important day,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., said at the hearing, “especially given the fact that you have access to information — being on the Capitol Police Board — about potential problems that we have on this campus.”

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