Updated at 9:27 p.m.
RICHMOND — Rep. Thomas Garrett, R-Buckingham, announced Monday that he is struggling with alcoholism and will abandon his run for a second term in Congress so he can focus on recovery and his family.
Garrett, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, is the 44th Republican to retire or announce they will not seek re-election to the House this year, according to CNN’s retirement tracker. Many are leaving in anticipation of a strong Democratic performance in congressional races this fall and out of frustration with partisan politics in Washington.
The former Virginia state senator was facing a robust challenge from his Democratic challenger, journalist and author Leslie Cockburn, who had raised more money than him and had more cash on hand.
“Any person — Republican, Democrat or independent — who has known me for any period of time and has any integrity knows two things: I am a good man and I’m an alcoholic,” Garrett, fighting back tears, said in a video shot Monday afternoon on Richmond’s Capitol Square. “This is the hardest statement that I have ever publicly made by far. It’s also the truth”
His announcement caps a week of turmoil in Garrett’s Washington office, which included the resignation of his chief of staff, Jimmy Keady, an online news report that Garrett was thinking about dropping his re-election bid and a news conference Thursday in which Garrett insisted he was running.
On Friday, a Politico report quoted four unidentified former staffers who accused Garrett and his wife, Flanna, of ordering staff to walk their dog, carry groceries or perform other personal tasks for the couple — a practice prohibited by House ethics rules.
In an effort to confirm those allegations, The Washington Post spoke to two former staffers who said the couple would from time to time call upon aides to handle personal chores. The former staffers declined to be named, out of fear of retribution.
Garrett, 46, would not answer questions about those allegations on Monday. In the video statement, he said: “The recent attacks on my family and myself were a series of half truths and full lies.”
He said he had been honest in every aspect of his life, save one: his drinking, which he said people close to him had cautioned him about since his early 20s.
Following the announcement, Cockburn said she was glad he is seeking the help he needs.
“Our thoughts are with Tom and his family,” she said.
Garrett is an Army veteran and former commonwealth’s attorney with a libertarian streak .He won election in his central Virginia district by 16 percentage points in 2016, outperforming President Donald Trump by about 5 points to succeed retiring Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham.
He officially was nominated to seek another term months ago. His impending departure means the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee, which has about three dozen members, will choose a new nominee to face Cockburn.
Larry J. Sabato, political analyst and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Garrett’s announcement was not necessarily a “slam dunk” for Democrats. Given the short time left before the June 12 filing deadline, Sabato said he suspects as many as a dozen people could throw their hats in the ring for the Republican nomination.
Due to the unexpected nature of the announcement, John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, said a shortlist of potential candidates was not immediately available.
However, as the story unfolded over the past few days, Republican observers of Virginia politics have said possible candidates from the General Assembly could be state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (Franklin), Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier) and Del. Rob. Bell (Albemarle). Tech executive Michael Del Rosso and businessman and developer Jim McKelvey both sought the nomination in 2016 and could also be interested.
Efforts to reach Bell on Monday were unsuccessful.
Nelson County distillery owner Denver Riggleman, who ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2017, said Monday that he is interested in running.
Garrett made his announcement outside the Capitol where he had served as a state senator. Wearing a dark suit and tie on a hot, humid day, he stood by a monument to Barbara Johns, who as a teenager led a walkout to protest Virginia’s segregated schools. Garrett filed a bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Johns.
As Garrett spoke, wife held their baby daughter off camera. The couple embraced, sobbing, after he finished speaking.
“Not for fear of losing or for lack of love for our great nation, today I am announcing that I will not seek re-election,” Garrett said as the camera rolled.
“Sometimes, winning means knowing where your priorities should be. My devotion to the ideals and beliefs in America has not wavered, but my commitment to be the best husband, father and friend means addressing the only truth I’ve been heretofore unwilling to tell.
"God has blessed America, and he’s blessed me. I am not dying. I am starting anew with work and dedication. Great things can be done. This isn’t an ending for me or my values of service to my fellow man. It’s just a new beginning.”