J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol and the only member of the Capitol Police Board who has kept his job in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, is being investigated by his agency’s inspector general for allegedly misusing his official government car, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
Blanton’s official AOC-issued home-to-work car, a black Ford Explorer with AOC license plates, was being driven recklessly by a woman near Tysons Corner, Va., on Saturday, March 6, according a complaint received by AOC Inspector General Christopher Failla’s office. The vehicle, which was traveling at a high rate of speed, made an unauthorized stop at Walmart. Further, someone in the car made obscene gestures at the person who reported the incident, the complaint alleges.
Blanton, who receives a budget for the vehicle, is prohibited by agency rules from transporting non-official passengers in the AOC car and from using the car for anything other than commuting to and from the Capitol and official agency business.
The inspector general’s office is also reviewing an earlier incident from Dec. 17 in which an observer saw the car in Burke, Va., and in Fairfax, Va., driving near a gym. That complaint was filed with the General Services Administration through the How’s My Driving program, which allows the public to report misuse or reckless driving of government cars.
The General Services Administration shared the complaint with the AOC’s fleet manager days later. It was also sent to 11 other AOC employees. However, the inspector general’s office was not made aware of the December allegation until March, when the Tysons Corner incident was discussed.
In response to a list of questions about the allegations, an AOC spokesperson issued the following unsigned statement:
“The Architect of the Capitol is selected by a bi-cameral, bi-partisan selection committee and a list of recommended names is submitted to the White House, who returns one nominee to the U.S. Senate for confirmation,” the AOC spokesperson said. “The purpose of the Architect’s vehicle is for continuity purposes and allow he or she to remotely support agency operations and campus emergencies. The agency is a 24 hour/7 day a week operation. As such, having the vehicle with the Architect is vital in his or her ability to communicate and quickly and safely return to campus at any time.”
“As with any investigation involving an AOC employee, It is our office’s policy to not discuss an ongoing investigation until after the investigation has completed,” Failla, the AOC IG, said in an emailed statement. “The AOC Inspector General is an independent investigating entity and will produce a report that substantiates or unsubstantiates allegations. Any substantiated charges and disciplinary actions will be taken by the oversight bodies of the AOC.”
Every chairperson and ranking member of the committees of jurisdiction for AOC oversight declined or could not be reached for comment. This includes: House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., and ranking member Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; House Administration Committee Chairperson Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking member Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
The Capitol Police Board is intended to oversee the Capitol Police department and advance coordination for the security of the Capitol complex. In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, three of the four members on the board resigned: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, an ex-officio member, as well as Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger and House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving. But Blanton, a voting member of the board, has, so far, withstood the shakeup.
Blanton has said he was largely left out of the loop when it came to planning for Jan. 6, and noted that Sund did not reach out to his office asking for National Guard support.
“In terms of support for USCP, as I have shared previously, then-chief Sund did not reach out to me or my staff with a request for an emergency declaration or interest seeking National Guard support in advance of the breach,” Blanton testified in May.
A recent inspector general report found that on Jan. 6 some AOC employees did not know what protective actions to take. AOC’s plans and emergency management training did not sufficiently address situations involving active shooters and civil disturbances and the existing emergency policies regarding those events were not updated. Lawmakers have also recounted how unprepared their offices were during the Capitol attack.
Blanton was appointed by President Donald Trump and assumed the top job overseeing more than 2,000 AOC employees in January 2020. Blanton has said he plans to serve a full 10-year term at the AOC, an agency charged with maintaining and preserving buildings, art and the Capitol grounds.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether Biden wants to nominate someone to replace Blanton.
At his nomination hearing before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee in December 2019, Blanton said he would not tolerate unethical acts.
“I will have a zero tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination or unethical behavior,” Blanton said. “We cannot expect to attract the nation’s top workforce without adapting and changing our culture.”