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Radel to Take Leave of Absence for Drug Treatment (Updated)

Updated 11:29 p.m. | Rep. Trey Radel won’t resign, but he will take a leave of absence.

The Florida Republican faced the media late Wednesday night after pleading guilty earlier in the day to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cocaine. Radel apologized and said he would take a leave of absence while he seeks “intensive” inpatient treatment, but he also said he wasn’t stepping down.

“I will be taking a leave of absence,” Radel told reporters against the backdrop of a white wall, flanked by an American flag to his right and a Florida state flag to his left. “During that time, I’m going to donate my salary to a charity.”

He did not say he would be donating his salary for the time that he was serving in Congress and using cocaine.

What Radel did say was that he was sorry, that there was no excuse for his actions, that he needed to regain the trust of his constituents and take responsibility for his behavior.

“I’m not going to sit here and try and make any excuses for what I’ve done. I’ve let down our country, I’ve let down our constituents, I’ve let down my family, including my wife, and even though he doesn’t know it, I’ve let down my 2-year-old son,” he said.

“I have been getting the help that I need, and I will continue to get the help that I need, and the support system that I need for years to come,” he said.

While Radel said that he has already started an intensive inpatient treatment, adding that he has struggled with his addiction problems for “years,” he did not specify how long he would be in treatment, or what that treatment would entail.

Radel seemed to indicate during his press conference that this was not a new issue, nor an infrequent one — meaning his personal, and, indeed, political problems might be deeper than previously suspected.

However, during the roughly 10-minute news conference, which was held in Cape Coral, Fla., at 10:30 p.m. EST, Radel never uttered the word cocaine.

One item repeatedly brought up was Radel’s wife, whom he called “his rock.” And Radel referenced his mother, who struggled with her own addiction issues and died on Radel’s wedding day, choking on a piece of steak during the reception.

“I want to be a better man for my family,” he said.

As Radel exited the press conference, he was asked a question — which he did not answer — about his vote to drug test food stamp recipients. Radel can expect that line of questioning to be a common refrain.

Radel pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to the possession charge in D.C. Superior Court after he was arrested on Oct. 29 for possession cocaine. Radel bought 3.5 grams of cocaine — commonly known as an eight ball — from an undercover officer outside a Dupont Circle restaurant.

GOP leadership has stood by Radel to this point, with a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner issuing a statement Tuesday evening that said, “this is between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents.”

While leadership and Radel seem to believe he can politically survive the cocaine arrest incident, some Republicans have already signaled they believe he should step down.

“It seems like it’d be awfully difficult to continue,” Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, said. “Seems like it would be hard.”

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., said, “The safe answer, of course, is that it’s up to his district.”

“But that said, I do believe there is a higher responsibility, particularly for federal office,” Rigell said. “It seems to me he must put first what’s best for his district, and I would think that would mean someone who could devote full time to this without the burden of what he’s going through.”

The Ethics Committee is bound by House rules to empanel an investigation within 30 days of the charge and will likely do so at its December meeting.

But an Ethics panel member told CQ Roll Call Wednesday the most likely outcome would be for the committee to concur with the court actions taken against Radel and offer no further repercussions.

On Wednesday, Judge Robert S. Tignor sentenced Radel to one year of probation, with some supervision, and a $250 fine for the misdemeanor possession charge.

Hannah Hess contributed to this report.

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