Biden removes top Capitol administrator after report alleging abuse of power

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 while 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 reached out to Blanton’s office for comment.

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

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.

The committee chair, Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., issued a statement Monday calling on Blanton to resign, saying his “refusal to be transparent and truthful has made clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately.”

That 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.”

Blanton could only be removed by the president because the Architect of the Capitol is a presidential appointee who’s 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 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,” McConnell, R-Ky., said.

The inspector general 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 that Blanton mischaracterized his government position, at one point chasing down a vehicle that was described as being involved in a hit-and-run and misrepresenting himself as a law enforcement official. In another instance, he called himself an “agent” after getting 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.

During last week’s hearing, Blanton maintained 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 on 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 told the panel of lawmakers that he instead used the car as his “mobile command center” during the attack on the Capitol.

In a statement Monday, Morelle praised the president 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,” Morelle said.

Blanton was the only member of the Capitol Police Board who still had their job after the Jan. 6 riot. The board consists of the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate and the Architect of the Capitol.

Garrett Haake contributed.

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