Opinion: Even the small scandals are important

This week brought the end of one of the more bizarre ethics episodes in recent memory on Capitol Hill, as President Biden fired the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, J. Brett Blanton.

It’s not often that you see a public official throw his wife and daughter under the bus at a Congressional hearing — but that’s what Blanton will always be remembered for.

Tapped as Architect by President Trump in 2019, Blanton was in charge of the buildings and maintenance of the U.S. Capitol complex.

As part of his job, Blanton drove a government SUV, but investigators found it quickly became a family vehicle, used by his wife and daughter (who called it ‘free gas’), and for vacations to South Carolina and Florida.

A November 2022 report about Blanton’s misuse of government resources should have been enough to force him to resign.

Instead, Blanton hunkered down — evidently hoping that lawmakers might forget his troubles.

They did not.

And the situation produced one of the worst days of Congressional testimony that I’ve ever seen.

At a House hearing, Blanton seemed unsure of the facts. He stumbled. He contradicted himself, and he disputed that his wife and daughter drove the vehicle without him.

“That would be something that would have to be discussed with them,” Blanton told lawmakers.

“You’re not suggesting we bring members of your family in to testify before us, are you?” asked a stunned U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y.

The hearing went downhill from there, as both parties demanded Blanton’s ouster.

“It takes a special kind of effort to produce bipartisanship like that,” tweeted Walter Shaub, a former top government ethics official.

One of the panel members who witnessed the head-shaking scene was U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville. He said Blanton exhibited “poor job performance and overall lack of professionalism.”

But making this story even crazier was something else that emerged in Blanton’s testimony.

As Architect, Blanton was part of the Capitol Police Board, which was involved in formulating security precautions for Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of Donald Trump laid siege to the U.S. Capitol.

Where was Blanton on Jan. 6? Working from home.

But even after the violence began — with his employees on the front lines of a mob attack — Blanton didn’t hop in his government SUV to get back to the Capitol.

Lawmakers didn’t know that — and they were furious.

“I find it mind-blowing,” said U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.

Three days later, Blanton was out — a fresh reminder that accountability remains important at all levels of government.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com