TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. congressman from Florida who recently pleaded guilty to cocaine possession is focusing on rehab and will return to work, his aide said Tuesday, despite calls from the state's top Republican Party officials for him to step down.
On Monday, party chairman Lenny Curry suggested U.S. Rep. Trey Radel from Fort Mayers should resign after his recent conviction in Washington, D.C. The chairman joined a growing number of party leaders in Radel's own district and Florida's governor who are calling for his resignation.
In response, Radel's spokesman Dave Natonski wrote in an email to The Associated Press: "Congressman Radel's top priority right now is to complete his rehabilitation and then return to work as soon as possible."
Gov. Rick Scott, speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hertz car rental headquarters in Collier County on Tuesday, said he agreed with GOP leaders who have urged Radel to step down.
"Look, Trey is going through a tough time. My prayers and my wife's prayers are with his family. But we have to hold all of our elected officials to the highest standards," Scott said during a media availability.
Adding to the calls for resignation: Republican State Sen. Jack Latvala addressed the issue on his Twitter account Tuesday morning.
"Support 100% RPOF @lennycurry call for @treyradel to do the right thing and resign."
Radel, if he refuses to resign, could only be expelled from the House if two-thirds of the members agree. Outside of the Civil War, only two House members have been expelled, both for bribery.
Meanwhile, the Naples Daily News reported that it spoke to Radel on Tuesday morning at his downtown Naples rehabilitation facility. The paper took photos of Radel wearing a T-shirt and jeans, smoking and talking with another man while seated at a picnic table.
"I'm here talking to my buddy," he told the paper. "I feel great. I am here focused on my family and my health."
"It really is upsetting," he continued, "As I sit here and work on focusing on my family and health with people coming and harassing me."
When pressed for details, Radel wouldn't elaborate, the paper stated.
"I'll just leave it at that," he said.
The heads of the Republican Party in Lee and Collier counties also have called on Radel to resign and said they would not support him if he decides to seek another term.
"These actions have violated the trust of those whom he was elected to represent and fall short of the standards for an elected official; especially a member of the United States Congress," wrote Michael D. Lyster, chairman of the Collier County Republicans.
Wrote Terry Miller, the chairman of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee: "While the decision to complete the current term is his alone to make, we strongly encourage him to reflect on his ability to remain effective and that a return to Congress may serve only as an impediment to his recovery."
Both Miller and Lyster urged Radel to resign immediately.
Also this week, two of Radel's staffers announced that they were leaving to work for a D.C. public relations firm. One, Amanda Nunez, was Radel's spokeswoman; current Radel staffers said she had given her notice a couple of weeks ago, prior to the scandal.
Last Wednesday, Radel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession. He admitted to purchasing 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover officer in Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood last month. After the undercover officer gave Radel the drugs, federal agents confronted him, court documents show.
Radel agreed to talk with the agents and invited them to his apartment, where he also retrieved a vial of cocaine he had in the home, the documents said.
If Radel had been arrested in Florida with the same amount of cocaine, it would be a third-degree felony punishable by five years in prison under state law.
Radel had been in office for 10 months when he was charged. His district includes the Gulf Coast communities of Fort Myers and Naples.
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush