The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday said it has formally closed the books on its investigation into possible violations of House rules against former Rep. Trey Radel for his cocaine-possession conviction, sparking an outcry from a watchdog group that says there are still too many questions for the inquiry to be abandoned.
The committee described its decision to drop the matter as procedural. The joint announcement from Chairman Mike Conaway and ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., noted that with the freshman lawmaker's resignation from Congress on Monday, an Ethics investigative subcommittee "no longer has jurisdiction over him."
But not everyone is satisfied with that.
One outside government watch group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, raised questions this week about Radel's sudden departure from Congress--and it says the ethics investigation should continue.
CREW had already filed a complaint with the separate Office of Congressional Ethics against Radel after his arrest and conviction in November, asserting that his conduct reflected discreditably upon the House.
Now the group is suggesting that its seems possible the House committee is closing the Radel case because it might have elicited damaging information about other members of Congress and congressional staff.
"It's not as if the Republican leadership just learned of the cocaine bust over the weekend," noted CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a statement.
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 one-year 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.
"Rep. Radel's resignation is welcome, though overdue. The timing, however, is certainly suspicious," said Sloan in the statement earlier this week. "Why now? It seems possible his resignation is intended to stymie the ethics investigation that might have elicited damaging information about other members of Congress and congressional staff."
Sloan also noted that CREW has previously raised questions about who introduced the first-term lawmaker--who lived in Washington less than 10 months--to his drug dealer?
"Further, we know Rep. Radel shared his cocaine with others. Who, exactly? Given his short tenure in D.C., Rep. Radel most likely spent his free time with other members of Congress and Hill staff," said Sloan.
"The congressman's resignation should in no way derail the ethics investigation stemming from this incident," she said.