Capitol Hill official accused of ethics violations over offer to give "patriots" tours
The Architect of the Capitol is being accused by a federal watchdog of abusing his authority, misusing government property and wasting taxpayer money, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General.
Driving the news: Family members of J. Brett Blanton, who was appointed by former President Trump, offered private tours of the Capitol in September 2020 when the building was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the report.
Details: Social media posts from his wife, Michelle Blanton, showed photos of them from the dome of the Capitol with a comment stating, "This is happening!!!" and "All PATRIOTS welcome." The latter comment was later edited to say "*Patriots=Americans who love America. Not a candidate," per the report.
- On the same day, another photo from the Capitol was posted with the comment, "Contact me for a private tour. All PATRIOTS accepted!"
Blanton is also accused of abusing government property and wasting taxpayer money by using his government-owned vehicle as his and his family's personal car.
- He allegedly allowed his family to drive the vehicle and took it out of state to South Carolina and Florida, per the report.
- In a two-year period, the vehicle had almost 30,000 miles on it — about three times more than it should've had, per the watchdog.
- An evaluation of the additional mileage added to the vehicles, wear and tear, and extra maintenance amounted to a total of "no less than $12,434.00 in unreported, taxable noncash fringe benefits to Blanton," the report states.
- In one instance, Blanton drove the vehicle to a brewery and was involved in an accident. He claimed to be an "agent" and said he did not have insurance information because the government would handle the claim.
What they're saying: "The [Office of the Inspector General] identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation," the report says.
- "Blanton’s actions have violated every pillar the [Office of the Inspector General] operates under including theft, fraud, waste and abuse against not only the [Architect of the Capitol] but also the taxpayer," it continues.
- Blanton did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
Of note: The Office of the Inspector General referred the case to the U.S. attorney’s offices in Washington, D.C., and the Eastern District of Virginia, both of which declined to press charges.
- The findings were also sent to the IRS for potential tax violations and congressional committees with oversight authority.
What's next: Inspector general investigators said they intend to present their findings and possible legal violations in Virginia to the assistant commonwealth’s attorney.