Facing a House ethics investigation, the Florida congressman who pleaded guilty to cocaine-possession charges last year will resign, his top aide said Monday, after several GOP leaders requested that he step down.
On Nov. 20, the freshman Republican pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession and was sentenced to a year of probation. He admitted to purchasing 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover officer Oct. 29 in Washington.
Several GOP leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, had asked him to resign. But Radel had pledged to stay in office and rebuild constituents' trust after taking a leave of absence and completing a month-long in-patient treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse. In a defiant prime-time news conference last month, he defended his legislative record and pledged to redouble his congressional efforts "with a clearer focus and a stronger mind."
After returning to Congress this month, he apologized to Republican colleagues and assured them in a closed-door meeting that he was in a good place and had found a support group, according to House aides who spoke on condition of anonymity at the time because they weren't authorized to discuss the private meeting.
Political pressure, however, was building.
The House Ethics Committee announced last month that it was launching a formal investigation of the congressman, and at least one of his former rivals, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel, had vowed to challenge him in a GOP primary. Former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who represented the area for eight years before a failed run for Senate, had been mentioned as another possible challenger.
Radel had been in office for 10 months when charged. His deeply conservative district includes the Gulf Coast cities of Fort Myers and Naples.
The drug arrest derailed a seemingly promising career.
After a stint as a TV news anchor, he started a media-relations firm and hosted an early-morning conservative talk-radio show in southwest Florida. He married another news anchor and they had a baby.
When he decided to run for Congress, he became involved in a bruising, six-way GOP primary, openly targeting opponents on the Internet and facing criticism for his firm's ownership of explicitly named websites. But he was backed by the local tea party movement and Republican luminaries, including Mack and Sen. Marco Rubio, and clinched the GOP nomination. He cruised to victory in November.
Things were seemingly going well for Radel. His wife was featured in a glowing local news segment about how the couple was adjusting to life in D.C. He had sponsored a handful of bills, and he was interviewed by several inside-the-Beltway publications. He was active on Twitter and wrote pieces for Buzzfeed about rap music. (He dubbed Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" a conservative anthem "because I believe when government expands it becomes a political tool meant to oppress.")
He championed cuts in sheep-farm subsidies, keeping good on his conservative promise.
Then, on Oct. 29, Radel attempted to buy $250 worth of cocaine from an undercover police officer in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
According to court documents, federal agents confronted the congressman and he invited them to his apartment, where he turned over a vial of the drug. A DEA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details of the case in his own name said Radel was identified to authorities as a cocaine buyer by his suspected dealer.
For the next three weeks, Radel didn't skip a beat. He held a re-election fundraiser at a Naples country club, continued to cast votes and bashed "Obamacare" on Twitter. He did not tell House leaders about the bust until Nov. 19, when reporters broke the news about the case.
When his arrest became public, Radel said during a news conference that he had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse "off and on for years."
While court documents said the lawmaker purchased cocaine on several occasions before his bust in October, he maintained that he had used the drug only "a handful of times" beginning in college. His treatment, he said, was focused on alcoholism.
Scott will set a date for a special election to fill Radel's seat.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mjmishak
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