Congressional ethics watchdogs have decided to investigate whether the House should hand down its own punishment to Rep. Trey Radel for his misdemeanor cocaine-possession conviction last month.
The decision was announced Monday by the House Ethics Committee's chairman, Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in a joint statement.
A subpanel of members from the GOP-chaired committee will conduct an initial inquiry to determine if House rules were violated. Any recommendations for punitive action would then go to the full committee.
The focus of that inquiry will be to determine whether Radel, R-Fla., "violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities with respect to conduct" that led to the his arrest and guilty plea, said Conaway and Sanchez in their joint statement.
Potential House actions against Radel could range from a "letter of reproval" to a recommendation for expulsion.
Committee member Charlie Dent, R-Pa., will serve as the chairman of the investigating subcommittee. Reps. Yvette Clark, D-N.Y., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Janice Hahn, D-Calif., will also serve on the panel.
Ultimately, there could be a public Ethics Committee trial if Radel were to fight any charges brought against him.
The 37-year-old freshman lawmaker is believed to be the first sitting House member arrested on a cocaine charge. Court documents say he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover police office in Washington's Dupont Circle on Oct. 29, as part of a federal investigation.
He was not formally charged until Nov. 19, and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge the next day, receiving a sentence of one year of probation and a $250 fine.
Radel has taken a leave of absence from his legislative duties with an eye to returning in January, and had voluntarily enrolled in an inpatient substance-abuse program.
"Congressman Radel has acknowledged and accepted full responsibility for his actions and is committed to continuing and completing a treatment program that will help him overcome his personal problems," said a Radel spokesman, Greg Dolan. "He expected that the House Ethics Committee would look into the matter and intends to appropriately address the investigation initiated by the House Ethics Committee."
Washington-based lawyer David Schertler, who represented Radel in the criminal case, said he is also representing the lawmaker in the ethics matter. He said they have not yet received any request to appear before the panel and have not done so.
Sources say the Ethics Committee met privately on several matters last week prior to the House adjourning for the year, including a session Thursday to discuss the Radel case.