A federal watchdog is accusing the Architect of the Capitol, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, of ethics violations over an offer to provide tours to “patriots” weeks before the November 2020 election.
The inspector general with oversight over J. Brett Blanton, the Architect of the Capitol, found that one of his immediate family members offered private tours of the US Capitol in September 2020 while the building was closed due to Covid-19, according to a newly released report.
A post on social media included photos of Blanton and the family member from the dome of the Capitol with a comment stating: “This is happening!!!” and “All PATRIOTS welcome,” according to the report. That comment was later edited to read: “*Patriots=Americans who love America. Not a candidate,” the report said.
The inspector general also accused Blanton of abuse of government property and wasting taxpayer dollars by allowing his family to drive a government-owned vehicle and taking the vehicles on out-of-town trips to South Carolina and Florida, according to the report.
While serving on the US Capitol Police Board and overseeing the Capitol’s property management and operations, Blanton had access to three government-owned vehicles.
“The OIG identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation,” the report said. “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,” the report continued, referring to the acronym for the Architect of the Capitol.
The Office of the Inspector General referred the case to the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, and the Eastern District of Virginia, and both offices declined charges. Inspector general investigators also have referred their findings to the IRS for potential tax violations and to congressional committees with oversight authority. Investigators wrote they intend to present the investigative findings and possible violations of law in Virginia to the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Blanton did not respond to CNN requests for comment.
Inspector general investigators wrote in the report that the probe into Blanton began in March 2021 when a private citizen reported a woman drove Blanton’s government-issued SUV recklessly by swerving out of a Walmart garage, driving 65 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone, and making obscene gestures at another driver.
The investigation determined Blanton’s daughters had been driving and riding in the SUV, and further, that others had complained in the past.
“Additional evidence and testimony confirmed the AOC vehicles intended for [Home-To-Work] transportation by Blanton were consistently used as personal vehicles by both Blanton and his family for weekend trips to a craft brewery, out-of-town trips and general family use,” the report said.
Investigators also said Blanton allowed his daughters, their friends and a boyfriend to freely use one vehicle. According to the report, one of Blanton’s daughters told investigators she “had transported her friends and boyfriend in the vehicle and referred to using the AOC’s fuel as ‘free gas.’ “
In about a two-year period, Blanton’s vehicle racked up roughly 30,000 miles, though Blanton should, by policy, have only driven 10,000. This resulted in nearly $1,400 in wasted taxpayer funds, investigators found.
In one instance, investigators said Blanton drove a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee to a brewery in Leesburg, Virginia, and was involved in an accident, costing the Architect of the Capitol about $1,400. During the incident, Blanton claimed to be an “agent” and that the government would handle his insurance claim.
Blanton used the same Jeep to pursue a hit and run near his home after his daughter’s boyfriend’s car was struck. The police report obtained from that incident identified Blanton as an “off-duty DC police officer,” and the suspect in the incident claimed Blanton affirmed he was a law enforcement member.
Blanton’s role as Architect of the Capitol includes access to police information but does not grant him police powers.
Each vehicle Blanton used has an emergency equipment package, including law enforcement lights and sirens, a US Capitol Police radio and a satellite phone.
Despite his use of law enforcement-style vehicles, Blanton did not respond to the January 6, 2021, attack, the report noted.
Blanton may have intended to use more government funds inappropriately when he requested to remove a GPS tracking device from his vehicle and to replace the second-row captain’s chairs with a bench seat.
According to another family member, “This was at the request of his daughters to have more room for guests,” investigators wrote.