MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Republican Rep. Trey Radel is out of rehab a month after pleading guilty to cocaine-possession charges.
The 37-year-old freshman held a news conference Thursday night at his Cape Coral office where he said he wants to stay in Congress and ask for forgiveness.
“I love what I do, and I’m going to return to what I do, what you sent me to do in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
When asked about his future career plans, he said “politics and reelection are the absolute last thing on my mind right now.”
He told reporters that alcohol was the root of his problem and he vowed to remain sober.
On Nov. 20, Radel 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 in Washington on Oct. 29.
When pressed Thursday, he told reporters he only used the drug sparingly.
“A handful of times,” he insisted. “I’ve been treated for the disease of alcoholism. Alcohol is my issue.”
Radel’s comments came the same day he completed the 28-day substance abuse treatment program mandated as part of his sentence.
For the first time since his arrest, his wife Amy appeared publicly by his side, and she promised to stay there.
“I don’t have to say much. He’s an amazing man. I’m here supporting him. I stand by Trey because I do support him, 100%. I love him unconditionally,” Amy Radel said. “He’s a great man. He’s a great father. He’s a great husband.”
Amy Radel declined to say how long she’s known of her husband’s substance abuse problem.
She said the ordeal will make him a “bigger, better, stronger” man.
While the congressman has said he wants to “continue serving this country,” several GOP leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, have asked him to resign. The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it was launching a formal investigation of him.
Former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who represented the area for eight years before a failed run for Senate last year, has been mentioned as a possible primary challenger if Radel runs for re-election next year.
The freshman Congressman said he still has work to do on Capitol Hill.
“We still have a $17 trillion debt. Medicare and Social Security are all still threatened by an irresponsible Washington,” Radel said. “Upon return, when it comes back to legislating and voting, that’s what I’m going to be focused on.”
Radel had been in office for 10 months when he was charged. His district includes the Gulf Coast cities of Fort Myers and Naples.
The drug arrest derailed a seemingly promising career.
After a career 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 Republican luminaries, including Mack and Sen. Marco Rubio, and clinched the GOP nomination. He cruised to victory in November.
Things were seemingly going well for Radel. His wife was featured in a glowing local news segment about how the couple were adjusting to life in D.C., he had sponsored a handful of bills, and he was interviewed by several inside-the-Beltway publications. He was active on Twitter and wrote pieces for Buzzfeed about rap music. (He dubbed Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” a conservative anthem “because I believe when government expands it becomes a political tool meant to oppress.”)
He supported drug testing for food-stamp recipients and championed cuts in sheep-farm subsidies, keeping good on his conservative promise.
Then, on Oct. 29, Radel attempted to buy $250 worth of cocaine from an undercover police officer in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
According to court documents, federal agents confronted the congressman and he invited them to his apartment, where he turned over a vial of the drug. A DEA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details of the case in his own name said Radel was identified to authorities as a cocaine buyer by his suspected dealer. Court documents said the lawmaker had purchased the drug on several previous occasions.
For the next three weeks, Radel didn’t skip a beat. He held a re-election fundraiser at a Naples country club, continued to cast votes and bashed “Obamacare” on Twitter. He did not tell House leaders about the bust until Nov. 19, when reporters broke the news about the case.
When his arrest became public, Radel said during a news conference that he had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse “off and on for years.”
On Thursday, he once again asked for prayers and forgiveness while expressing his renewed commitment to his family and his faith.
“I think at some points in my life, God was kicking me in the shins, saying ‘Trey, maybe you need to wake up.’ And here I am today before you, taking responsibility and full accountability for my actions.”