News & Politics

Watchdog Group Calls for Removal of Architect of the Capitol

The demand follows a scathing report from the Inspector General.

A DC watchdog group is calling for a new Architect of the Capitol after an Inspector General’s report found that the current architect, J. Brett Blanton, abused his power, squandered taxpayer funds, and misused government property. 

“The violations substantiated by the IG warrant the Architect of the Capitol’s removal from his position,” says Donald K. Sherman, the senior vice president and chief counsel of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The report from the Architect of the Capitol’s Inspector General, which was released Tuesday, found that in the more than two years since he was sworn in, Blanton regularly used his official vehicles for personal purposes, misrepresented himself as a police officer, and gave “misleading and false information” to the Inspector General’s investigators. In addition, Blanton’s wife, Michelle Blanton, allegedly took her swim team on a private tour of the US Capitol building at a time when it was not open to the public. 

“The OIG identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation,” the Inspector General said in its report. “Blanton’s actions have violated every pillar the OIG operates under including theft, fraud, waste, and abuse against not only the AOC but also the taxpayer.”

Republican President Donald Trump appointed Blanton to the post in December 2019.

Sherman, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the findings of the Inspector General’s report are even more troubling “given the attack on the Capitol on January 6 and the ongoing and seemingly escalating threats against members of Congress.” The Architect of the Capitol, Sherman notes, provides oversight of the Capitol Police as well as the physical infrastructure of the US Capitol complex. The findings of the IG’s report, he continues, “demonstrate [Blanton’s] unfitness to serve and to meet the challenges facing that office given the reality of these threats.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that six Democratic members of Congress have also demanded that Blanton resign.

Removing Blanton from the post, however, could be tricky. The Architect of the Capitol typically serves a ten-year term, and Sherman isn’t aware of an Architect of the Capitol that has been removed before. On top of that, Sherman says there’s no mechanism for removing the Architect of the Capitol explicitly spelled out in the legislation. “This is in many ways uncharted territory,” he says. 

Despite these questions, Sherman believes it’s likely that President Biden has the authority to remove the Architect of the Capitol. “But frankly, because the statute is silent on the removal process,” says Sherman, “I imagined that decision will be made in consultation with the Office Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice and in consultation with Congress.”

The Inspector General began its investigation after a citizen contacted the IG’s hotline in March of 2021 to report that an SUV with Architect of the Capitol license plates had been driving dangerously in a parking garage near Tyson’s Corner. “The complainant and their passenger observed the vehicle driving extremely reckless in the parking garage,” the IG said in the report, “and swerving out of the garage at a high rate of speed, estimated to be about 65 miles per hour (mph) in a 30-mph zone.” The driver of the SUV, who was subsequently identified as one of Blanton’s daughters, allegedly made obscene gestures at the citizen who filed the complaint with the IG’s hotline.

Blanton and his family, according to the IG report, regularly used the Architect of the Capitol’s vehicles for weekend and out-of-town trips. Blanton’s adult daughter, Reilly Blanton, “transported both her friends and boyfriend in the vehicle and referred to using the AOC’s fuel as ‘free gas,’” according to the report. The additional miles that Blanton and his family put on these cars, the report concluded, are tantamount to fringe benefits worth at least $12,000 to Blanton. 

The IG also found that Blanton had misrepresented himself as a law enforcement official. According to the report, in June 2020 Blanton used an official Architect of the Capitol vehicle to chase after a car that may have been involved in a hit-and-run incident with a vehicle that belonged to his daughter’s boyfriend. The police report on the incident described Blanton as an “off-duty DC police officer.” And the attorney for the suspect in the hit-and-run incident “described Blanton as making an affirmative action when asked if he was law enforcement during the meetings,” according to the report. 

On top of all that, the IG reported that Blanton repeatedly gave its investigators “misleading and false information.” For example, according to the report, Blanton told investigators in multiple interviews that the AOC’s General Counsel and former Acting Architect had advised him of the permissible use of the [Architect of the Capitol’s official] vehicle. Both individuals, in multiple interviews, testified to the opposite.”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.