Rep. Trey Radel of Florida, a once-rising star in the Tea Party
movement, said in his resignation letter Monday that he can no longer
‘fully and effectively serve,’ after a conviction for buying cocaine.
By Noelle Swan
U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R) of Florida, a once-rising star in the Tea
Party movement, resigned from Congress on Monday, following a November
conviction of cocaine possession.
Congressman Radel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of narcotics
possession in November, after he was caught Oct. 29 trying to buy 3.5
grams of cocaine from an undercover federal agent in Washington’s
Dupont Circle area. During his trial, he reportedly told Judge Robert
Tignor that he had “hit a bottom” and realized that he needs help.
Radel was sentenced to a one-year probation and a $250 fine.
At first, the freshman congressman, who speaks fluent Spanish and
frequents Twitter, planned to serve out his congressional term after a
six-week leave of absence and a month of inpatient rehabilitation for
alcohol addiction. But on Monday, he reversed course and sent Speaker
John Boehner (R) of Ohio a letter of resignation.
“Unfortunately, some of my struggles had serious consequences,” he
wrote, in his letter of resignation. “While I have dealt with those
issues on a personal level, it is my belief that professionally I
cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States representative
to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida,” he wrote.
Radel’s arrest was part of a broad federal sting investigation into
drug trafficking in the nation’s capital conducted by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I have no excuse for what I have done,” the Florida congressmen told
reporters at a news conference after he entered his guilty plea. “I
have let down our country.” He said he had used cocaine only a handful
of times since first trying it in college.
The House Committee on Ethics launched an investigation in December
into whether Radel may also have violated any congressional rules.
Meanwhile, Radel continued to send signals that he expected to ride
out the storm and return to the House. “I look forward to getting back
to work next week, representing my neighbors in Southwest Florida as
they face the burdens of Obamacare, a jobless recovery, and a federal
government that continues to spend more than it takes in,” Radel said
in a statement in early January.
After his leave of absence, Radel met with top Florida Republicans and
said he was ready to fulfill his political obligation. However, fellow
Republicans, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Republican
Party of Florida, continued to call for his resignation.
Governor Scott is expected to schedule a special election for Radel’s
seat. Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and state Senate majority leader
Lizbeth Benacquisto have already launched campaigns for the seat,
according to the Miami Herald.
Radel, a former television reporter, was first elected to the 19th
Congressional District of Florida in November 2012, with strong
backing from the Tea Party. During his brief congressional tenure, he
served on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
His arrest came 10 months into his first term. He did not immediately
notify House leaders about the bust until reporters broke the news
about the case on Nov. 19.
Radel is not the first politician to have a run-in with the law over
drug possession. In 2006, Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor John Fabrizi
admitted to cocaine and alcohol abuse while serving in office.
Washington Mayor Marion Barry was famously videotaped smoking crack
cocaine in 1990; he served six months in a federal prison, then was
reelected to the City Council and served again as mayor from 1995-’99.
Rep. Frederick Richmond (D) of New York was convicted of federal
corruption including marijuana possession in 1982.
A House Ethics Committee report reveals that several aides and
congressional staffers have been suspected or convicted of possession
and/or sale of cocaine.
However, it appears that Radel is the first member of Congress to be
convicted of cocaine use while in office, MSNBC reports. Several
politicians, including President Obama and George W. Bush have
admitted to using cocaine prior to their time in office.
While congressional resignations related to drug conviction are
relatively rare, Congress is no stranger to scandalous departures from
office. Four members of the 112th Congress resigned over sex scandals,
including Rep. Christopher Lee (R) of New York, Sen. John Ensign (R)
of Nevada, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York, and Rep. David Wu (D)