January 27

Fla. congressman to resign over cocaine scandal

Several Repblican leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, had been asking him to resign for months.

By Michael J. Mishak
The Associated Press

MIAMI — Facing a House ethics investigation, the Florida congressman who pleaded guilty to cocaine-possession charges last year says he will resign Monday evening, after several GOP leaders requested that he step down.

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Before his arrest, things were seemingly going well for U.S. Rep. Henry “Trey” 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.

The Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Trey Radel announced his impending resignation in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, saying that while this year has “already been tremendously positive ... some of my struggles had serious consequences.” He will step down Monday, effective at 6:30 p.m., the letter says.

Politico first reported the upcoming resignation Monday morning.

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.

“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,” Radel wrote in the letter.

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 monthlong 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. On Monday, Scott lauded Radel’s decision.

“I believe that Trey is making the right decision for him and his family,” the governor said in a statement. “I’m glad that he has sought help, and it’s my hope he continues to put his attention on rehabilitation and his family.”

Meanwhile, the outlines of a crowded campaign to replace Radel in Florida’s solidly Republican 19th District began to take shape.

Lizbeth Benacquisto, the GOP majority leader of the state Senate, said she was weighing a congressional bid while former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who represented the area for eight years before a failed run for Senate, hinted at a potential run.

Kreegel, who announced his campaign earlier this month, said Radel’s resignation gives constituents the chance to move on.

“Southwest Florida should expect a Congressman who can lead, a Congressman without distractions, and a Congressman they can trust,” he said in a statement.

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 clinched the GOP nomination. Supported by Republican luminaries, including Mack and Sen. Marco Rubio, he cruised to victory in November.

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