TAMPA, Fla. - An aide to a U.S. Congressman who recently pleaded guilty to cocaine possession says the Fort Myers Republican is focusing on rehab and will return to work as soon as possible, despite calls from Florida's top Republican Party officials for him to step down.
A spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Radel responded to questions Tuesday.
"Congressman Radel's top priority right now is to complete his rehabilitation and then return to work as soon as possible," spokesman Dave Natonski wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Gov. Rick Scott, speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hertz car rental headquarters in Collier County on Tuesday, said he agreed with GOP leaders who have urged Radel to step down.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Radel and his family," said Scott.
Meanwhile, the Naples Daily News reported that it spoke to Radel on Tuesday morning at his downtown Naples rehabilitation facility. The paper took photos of Radel wearing a T-shirt and jeans, smoking and talking with another man while seated at a picnic table.
"I'm here talking to my buddy," he told the paper. "I feel great. I am here focused on my family and my health."
"It really is upsetting," he continued, "As I sit here and work on focusing on my family and health with people coming and harassing me."
When pressed for details, Radel wouldn't elaborate, the paper stated.
"I'll just leave it at that," he said.
On Monday, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida suggested Radel should step down after his recent cocaine conviction in Washington, D.C., joining a growing number of party leaders in Radel's own district calling for his resignation.
The heads of the Republican Party in Lee and Collier counties also have called on Radel to resign and said they would not support him if he decides to seek another term.
"These actions have violated the trust of those whom he was elected to represent and fall short of the standards for an elected official; especially a member of the United States Congress," wrote Michael D. Lyster, chairman of the Collier County Republicans.
Wrote Terry Miller, the Chairman of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee: "While the decision to complete the current term is his alone to make, we strongly encourage him to reflect on his ability to remain effective and that a return to Congress may serve only as an impediment to his recovery."
Both Miller and Lyster urged Radel to resign immediately, as did Lenny Curry, the state Republican Party chairman.
Also this week, two of Radel's staffers announced that they were leaving to work for a D.C. public relations firm. One of those staffers, Amanda Nunez, was Radel's spokeswoman; current Radel staffers said she had given her notice a couple of weeks ago, prior to the scandal.
Last Wednesday, Radel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession. He admitted to purchasing 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover officer in Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood last month. After the undercover officer gave Radel the drugs, federal agents confronted him, court documents show.
Radel agreed to talk with the agents and invited them to his apartment, where he also retrieved a vial of cocaine he had in the home, the documents said.
Radel had been in office for 10 months when he was charged. His district includes the Gulf Coast communities of Fort Myers and Naples.
Watch an AP report below on the Radel drug scandal (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1hi5S1M ):