Politics

Florida Republican congressman pleads guilty to cocaine possession

Florida Republican congressman pleads guilty to cocaine possession

Trey Radel (R-FL) is my congressman.  I voted for the guy.  I used to listen to his morning radio show, before he got into politics, and watch the TV news program co-anchored by his wife.  I relate the news of his arrest in a cocaine sting operation, and the guilty plea he entered in D.C. Superior Court today, with a heavy heart.  From the Washington Post:

Radel, a former TV broadcaster just 10 months into his first term in Congress, was sentenced by Judge Robert S. Tignor to one year of probation on the misdemeanor charge. Radel will undergo treatment in Florida, and he said he is also seeking counseling in the District.

Radel apologized in court, saying, “I hit a bottom, and I realize I need help.” If Radel completes probation, he won’t have a conviction on his record, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

So far, Radel has given no indication that he will resign his office. The House’s GOP leadership has made only terse statements on the case, saying the matter should be left to the courts, Radel and his family.

That’s the traditional bipartisan party-leadership response to something like this.  But Radel is a sitting member of Congress, and his decision-making skills are a major component of the job he was elected to do.  Hopefully he will indeed take this opportunity to turn over a new leaf and seek redemption.  We can all join in wishing him and his family the best, but it’s not easy to see how he can function in Congress after betraying his constituents this way, to say nothing of the demands of a rehab program.

An elected representative’s personal character also comes to reflect upon the issues he champions.  In Radel’s case, there is a very direct example of this: he led the fight to defund a particularly silly million-dollar slice of sheep-related pork-barrel spending, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.  He won the House vote, but now it’s said that the odds of his achievement being nullified in conference with the Senate have gotten much worse.  Much hay has also been made of his support for drug-testing food stamp recipients, an eminently sensible idea – it is beyond insane that we don’t do that already – but obviously difficult for someone with a record of drug abuse to champion.

The offense he got busted for was not an isolated incident, according to the charging documents.  As the Post fairly observes, he led “a remarkable double life, built in record time.”

Radel was on the radar of both the Capitol press corps and the Drug Enforcement Administration before Congress took its Thanksgiving break.

And then the double life unraveled just as quickly.

On the evening of Oct. 29, authorities said, Radel and an acquaintance met an undercover agent at a restaurant in Dupont Circle about 10 p.m.

Radel invited the friend and agent to his home to use cocaine, according to court papers. The agent declined. But then they moved to the agent’s car, where Radel purchased 3.5 grams of cocaine. The sale price was $250, the documents said.

For some reason, the congressman overpaid. He handed over $260.

And that was it.

After the transaction, officers approached the car and Radel dropped the drugs on the street. Then, court papers said, he asked the officers to come to his apartment to discuss the incident.

When officers went to the residence, authorities said, they found a vial containing cocaine.

ABC News says Radel voluntarily produced the second vial of cocaine and gave it to the officers, which is not an insignificant detail.

Unsurprisingly, Florida Democrats are calling for Radel to resign, as related by The Hill:

Scott Arceneaux, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, called Radel’s actions an “embarrassment” and said the congressman should allow voters to pick someone who can “effectively and honorably serve them.”

“Congressman Trey Radel’s conduct is an embarrassment to his district and to the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. “The issues facing Florida and our country are too serious. Congressman Radel should resign immediately and allow the voters of Florida’s 19th Congressional District to elect a Representative that is able to effectively and honorably serve them.”

That’s pretty rich coming from the party that tolerated, defended, and covered for Bob “Filthy” Filner through his career in Congress and tenure as mayor of San Diego, but it’s also silly to pretend that Democrat scandals give Republicans a license to commit transgressions, or vice versa.  There are standards we should hold for all representatives, from any party.  We do the country no service by lowering those standards for partisan reasons.

Radel has been heartfelt and contrite in his statements.  Contrition is the first step to redemption; the following steps can prove more difficult to take.  From CBS News:

“I apologize for what I have done,” said Radel, who has entered an outpatient counseling and treatment program at the Executive Addition Disease Program in Washington. “I am so sorry to be here.”

If he violates his probation, he faces up to 180 days in jail.

After the news about his arrest came to light Tuesday evening, Radel issued a statement saying he is “profoundly sorry.”

“I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice,” said Radel, who’s serving his first term in the U.S. House. “Believe me, I am disappointed in myself, and I stand ready to face the consequences of my actions.”

“However, this unfortunate event does have a positive side: It offers me an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling,” he went on, requesting prayers for his family. “As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them.”

That is indeed a worthy quest, and I’ll gladly pray for his success, but it doesn’t sound like a journey that can be undertaken while serving as a sitting member of Congress.

Update: Radel announced on Wednesday night that he would take a leave of absence from Congress to enter an inpatient drug treatment program in his Florida district.  His statement, courtesy of MSNBC:

“I hope, like family, southwest Florida can forgive me for this,” the freshman congressman said in a press conference from his office in Cape Coral, Fl. ”I’ve let them down. But I do believe in faith, forgiveness and redemption. I hope to come out of this a stronger man, a better man for all of you.”

“I’m owning up to my actions, I am taking responsibility and I’m living it very publicly, I’m being held accountable for the decisions that I made in my life. And I am. I have found treatment and I am working on treatment. And like anything in life I have to rebuild that trust…I have to rebuild the trust with southwest Florida, with the constituents and this home that I love,” Radel said.

The 37-year-old freshman congressman said on a personal note that he feels as though he has “grown up in the public eye of southwest Florida.” He told reporters that he has been struggling with the recent tragic death of his mother, and that she battled alcoholism for many years.


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