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Architect of Capitol abused government car privileges, IG report finds

Inspector general details ‘multiple’ violations by J. Brett Blanton

Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton allegedly misused a government-issued car and misrepresented himself as a law enforcement officer,  according to an October inspector general report.
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton allegedly misused a government-issued car and misrepresented himself as a law enforcement officer, according to an October inspector general report. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A searing report from the Architect of the Capitol inspector general suggests Architect J. Brett Blanton drove to Florida on the government’s dime, let his daughter use the office’s “free gas” for Walmart runs, allowed his wife to give prohibited private Capitol tours during the pandemic lockdown and may have misled others into thinking he was an off-duty cop.

The report found Blanton abused his authority, allowing his wife and daughter to drive his government-provided car. The report states the car, a black Ford Explorer with AOC license plates, was reported traveling 65 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone in a Walmart garage near Tysons Corner, Va., in March by a private citizen who filed a complaint. A woman matching the description of Blanton’s adult daughter was behind the wheel at the time.

Per the IG’s report, the AOC’s office provides the architect a car for “continuity of operations or emergency response to the U.S. Capitol, as necessary.” While office policy does allow for government vehicles to be used for daily commutes to the Capitol, they should not be used for non-work functions. But the automobile was consistently driven across the Washington metro area, the report found, “as well as West Virginia, South Carolina and Florida.”

Blanton’s adult daughter Reilly referred to using AOC vehicles to drive her friends around as “free gas,” according to the inspector’s office.

The report also found Blanton similarly abused his privileges to other AOC vehicles assigned to him. On a Saturday in May 2020, another driver bumped into an AOC-leased Jeep Grand Cherokee that Blanton drove to a family outing at Vanish Farmwoods Brewery in Leesburg, Va.

The report further states that a month later, Blanton used the same Jeep “to pursue a suspect involved in a hit-and-run that took place near his residence.” A police report identified Blanton as an “off-duty D.C. police officer.” Blanton is a retired U.S. Naval Officer and licensed civil engineer, but he has never served in any police office — although he does serve on the U.S. Capitol Police Board.

The Jeep was equipped with emergency equipment like police lights and sirens, and it used a Washington, D.C., license plate, giving it the appearance of a local police vehicle. Testimony from the lawyer for the hit-and-run suspect confirmed Blanton was present at pretrial meetings but never advised the court he was not in law enforcement and “made an affirmative action” when asked.

The report also found the Jeep was driven to South Carolina and Florida while Blanton was on vacation in August 2020.

During the investigation, the inspector general’s office ran across social media posts on Sept. 30, 2020, from Blanton’s wife, Michelle, that included photographs of her and Blanton from the U.S. Capitol dome with these comments: “This is happening!!!” and “All PATRIOTS welcome…PM me [winky face].” Another post asked “ALL PATRIOTS” to contact her for private tours of the Capitol at a time when the building was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michelle Blanton also posted photos and comments on Dec. 28, 2021, that suggested she gave her swim team a tour of the still-closed Capitol.

The report further noted that “Blanton did not use any of the AOC vehicles to respond to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, [2021], or during any incident that has taken place at the U.S. Capitol during his tenure as the Architect.”

The inspector general’s office referred matters related to the investigation to the Department of Justice in May. Now the office has forwarded its final report to the relevant congressional oversight committees for “their review and any action they deem appropriate.”

Blanton took the job in 2020 after being nominated by then-President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

Each architect typically serves a 10-year term and is responsible for overseeing the operation of the Capitol complex. That includes maintaining more than 570 acres of grounds, the congressional office buildings, the historic Capitol building itself, and the art collections found throughout.

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