Trey Radel resigns from Congress in wake of cocaine scandal

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.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Rep. Trey Radel (R) of Florida speaks in Washington on July 9, 2013. The freshman lawmaker resigned on Monday, after pleading guilty to cocaine-possession charges last year.

US 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 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) of Oregon.

Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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