With its deadline just days away, the House Ethics Committee was keeping mum Thursday on whether it would proceed with an inquiry into a possible House punishment against Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., for his misdemeanor cocaine-possession conviction.
"As a general matter, Ethics Committee meetings are held in executive session, and the committee does not comment on whether it has met [or will meet] unless it releases a public statement," said a committee spokesman, Tom Rust.
But other sources confirmed that the GOP-controlled committee did meet privately this week on more than one matter — including at least two times on Thursday.
If the Ethics Committee does choose to proceed with an investigation, potential House actions against Radel could range from a "letter of reproval" to a recommendation of expulsion, a decision that would require a full-blown Ethics Committee inquiry.
With the House set to adjourn for the year by Friday morning, it is unlikely the ethics panel will meet again this week.
At the same time, Dec. 19 is the formal deadline for it to decide what to do in the matter involving the 37-year-old freshman lawmaker, who is believed to be the first sitting House member arrested on a cocaine charge.
According to House rules, the panel must either initiate its own inquiry of Radel by "a majority vote of the members of the Committee" or submit a report to the House "describing its reasons for not initiating an inquiry and describing the actions, if any, that the Committee has taken in response to the allegations." Given the vote requirements, it is safe to assume any action on the matter would occur while the House is in session.
And House rules state that such a decision must occur "not later than 30 days after a member of the House is indicted or otherwise formally charged with criminal conduct in any Federal, State or local court...."
Radel was caught buying drugs in Washington in a federal investigation on Oct. 29. But he was not formally charged until Nov. 19, and he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge the next day, receiving a sentence of one year of probation and a $250 fine.
Court documents say he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover police officer in Washington's Dupont Circle.
Neither Radel's office nor his lawyer responded to messages this week. Radel has taken a leave of absence from his legislative duties with an eye to returning in January, and he has voluntarily enrolled in an inpatient substance-abuse program.