House Ethics committee to investigate Trey Radel

8:09 PM, Dec 17, 2013   |    comments
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Rep. Trey Radel (R-Florida) (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)



WASHINGTON (News-Press) -- The House Ethics Committee announced Monday it will investigate whether GOP Rep. Trey Radel of Florida violated rules of conduct by possessing cocaine.

If the panel decides punishment is warranted, sanctions against Radel could range from a letter of reproval to a recommendation for censure or even expulsion.

Radel, 37, pleaded guilty Nov. 20 in District of Columbia Superior Court to misdemeanor cocaine possession. He was sentenced to supervised probation for one year, ordered to undergo substance abuse treatment and fined $250.

Radel is the first sitting House member to be arrested on cocaine charges, experts say.

The freshman Republican from Fort Myers has taken a leave of absence and is enrolled in an inpatient treatment program in Naples. He has indicated he intends to return to Capitol Hill in January to resume his legislative duties.

"Congressman Radel has acknowledged and accepted full responsibility for his actions and is committed to continuing and completing a treatment program that will help him overcome his personal problems," a Radel spokesman said Monday. "He expected that the House Ethics Committee would look into the matter and intends to appropriately address the investigation initiated by the House Ethics Committee."

A statement issued by Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Tex., and Vice Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., as part of Monday's announcement said the panel voted unanimously Thursday to proceed with an investigation that will be overseen by a specially appointed subcommittee of two Republicans and two Democrats.

There is no deadline for the panel to report back.

It could take months while records are reviewed and interviews conducted, said R. Blake Chisam, who served as chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee from 2009-11. He expects Radel will be called before the panel to answer questions.

The committee could decide not to impose any sanctions, but Chisam said that's unlikely.

"You don't know what an investigation will find in terms of aggravating or mitigating factors," Chisam said. "I would still think that some sanction based on the conviction is likely an option."

The committee's decision to investigate Radel doesn't come as a surprise, but it's difficult to guess what the result will be, according to Terry Miller, Lee County Republican Party chairman.

"Are they going to find out more?" he asked. "I don't know. I don't know if there's more to this than we've been told."

It's rare to reprimand a congressman, but it's even more rare for a congressman to plead guilty to possession of cocaine, Rickey Nelson, president of the SWFL Young Republicans, said. That makes it almost impossible to predict what will happen to Radel.

"It's a situation that I don't think many people have ever come across before," he said.

Experts say any penalty will be determined by committee members' opinion of how badly Radel's guilty plea has discredited the House.

Monday's announcement increases pressure on Radel to resign.

Top GOP officials in Florida, including Gov. Rick Scott, have called on the tea party-backed freshman to step down.

A number of potential Republican candidates are already eying the seat, including state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, Chauncey Goss, who was the runner-up in last year's primary, and former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who preceded Radel in Congress.

Radel already was facing a tough re-election in the wake of his guilty plea. Observers say the ethics probe will make it difficult to convince voters he deserves another term.

Radel represents a conservative district with an older population "(that) does not view drug use kindly," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

"It's also a place where it's embarrassing to have someone from your area compared to the Toronto mayor," she said, referring to Rob Ford, who admitted smoking crack cocaine. "So even though everyone believes in redemption and remorse, it is just going to be difficult for him to overcome this."

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