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Blow by Blow: 10 Politicians Linked to Cocaine

Congressman Trey Radel isn't the first politician to make headlines from white lines

Florida Congressman Trey Radel exits D.C. Superior court after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images
November 22, 2013 11:30 AM ET

Freshman Congressman Trey Radel (R-Florida) became the first sitting U.S. representative to be convicted for a cocaine offense this week. The 37-year-old Radel pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession charges, following from his attempt to score about 3.5 grams of coke for $250 from an undercover cop in late October. (Radel had recently voted with Republican colleagues to drug-test food stamp recipients – an irony not lost on minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who remarked, "It's like, what!?") Radel, blamed his "extremely irresponsible choice" on "the disease of alcoholism." The first-time offender was sentenced to one year of probation.

Radel is far from the first politician to be linked to the drug — and certainly not the highest ranking. Here, a few lines about nine other politicians and their (alleged) histories with cocaine.

Admitted Users

President Barack Obama
While more famous for his youthful marijuana exploits as a member of the "Choom Gang," the president in his memoir Dreams from My Father obliquely admitted that he had a taste for coke too. The president writes about his drug use in the context of self-medicating to deal with the pain of an absent father: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it."

Former New York Governor David Paterson
The man who took over the governor's mansion from Eliot Spitzer following a prostitution scandal began his administration by frankly discussing with a TV interviewer his tame-by-comparison experience with cocaine: "You used cocaine, governor?" asked the reporter. Paterson's reply: "I'd say I was 22 or 23, I tried it a couple of times, yes."

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
Earlier this month, the tragicomic mayor of Canada's biggest city blamed his exploits smoking crack cocaine on a "drunken stupor," adding recently: "I made mistakes, I drank too much, I smoked some crack sometime. What can I say?"

Alleged Users

Former President George W. Bush
Allegations of youthful cocaine use dogged Bush throughout his political career. He always stopped short of definitively denying his use, preferring dodges like: "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."

Former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin
In a salacious biography published by Joe McGinniss, a friend of Palin's recalls a snowmachine trip with her prior to her election as governor of Alaska, in which the party turned over a 55 gallon oil drum and "we were all doing cocaine lines off the top of the drum." Palin's husband Todd blasted McGinnis for trafficking "innuendo and falsehoods."

Former Virginia Governor and Senator Chuck Robb
Robb's Senate tenure in the early 1990s was hampered by allegations that he had attended coke-fueled parties in Virginia Beach during his term as governor, and that Robb himself had used the drug. Robb denied the allegations "categorically."

Former Rep. Ron Dellums
Radel isn't the first House member to be linked to cocaine use. According to Congressional ethics documents, Dellums, a California Democrat, was investigated in the early 1980s for possible cocaine use. An assistant manager of the House Democratic cloakroom testified to a grand jury that he'd sold coke to Dellums. Dellums "expressly denied" the charges. A Justice Department investigation later determined that "there is insufficient admissible, credible evidence to support criminal charges against Representative Dellums."

Former Rep. Charlie Wilson
Wilson, a Republican from Texas, was alleged to have used cocaine on three occasions in 1980, once in Las Vegas and twice in the Caymans. Noting "jurisdictional problems," the Department of Justice also concluded that there was "insufficient admissible, credible evidence" to charge Wilson.

Busted Users

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry
The D.C. mayor is the only politician on this list to serve time for a cocaine offense. In a 1990 sting operation, Barry was lured to a room at the Vista International Hotel by a former girlfriend working for the FBI, and videotaped smoking crack. Not unlike Radel, Barry was found guilty of a single count of misdemeanor possession charge. Unlike Radel, Barry was sentenced to six months in federal prison.

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