Florida Rep. Trey Radel, R, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance on Wednesday. He was sentenced to a year of probation. Radel was arrested in late October for trying to purchase cocaine, and news of his arrest became public on late Tuesday. He appeared in court on Wednesday morning. A first-term congressman from south Florida, Radel said in a statement that he "struggle[s] with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice."
At times, it's easy to laugh and find some humor in the missteps, foibles, and failings of various politicians. But it's far more difficult to find joy in controversies like Trey Radel's.
What alcoholism has to do with cocaine is unclear, though it's similar to the defense offered by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
We're also getting a better sense of how Redel was caught. ABC News reports that the Republican congressman "first came on the radar of federal authorities when a suspected cocaine dealer under investigation by a joint Drug Enforcement Administration/FBI task force told agents that one of his customers was the Florida rep." An undercover sting operation ultimately ensnared the lawmaker.
Naturally, Redel's voting record is also coming into sharper focus, including his unfortunate vote in support of drug-testing for food-stamp recipients.
But as the story reaches an apparent end, at least in the short term, I'm still especially interested in the reaction from House Republican leaders.
As you probably recall, during the Bush/Cheney era, there were so many legal and ethical scandals surrounding congressional Republicans that Democrats ran on a 2006 platform that emphasized the GOP's "culture of corruption." It likely contributed to the wave that swept Republicans out of power.
It's why, in advance of the 2010 midterm, folks like Eric Cantor went out of their way to assure the public that House Republican leaders would take a "zero tolerance" policy towards GOP lawmakers caught up in legal and ethical controversies if Republicans regained their majority.
And then the party reclaimed its majority and promptly forgot about the "zero tolerance" commitment. House Republicans did nothing, for example, as David Rivera's various scandals intensified in the last Congress, and seem to have no interest in punishing Redel for his cocaine bust now.
House Speaker John Boehner's office said last night that the matter "will be handled by the courts," and the issue "is between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents."
I'm not suggesting congressional leaders come down on Redel like a ton of bricks, but it's hard not to wonder whether the "zero tolerance" rhetoric was just talk.