Updated Monday, 5:53 p.m. ET
House Republican leaders reprimanded 30 lawmakers last August for antics including drinking and skinny-dipping during a fact-finding trip to Israel, according to published reports.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) scolded the lawmakers — many of them freshmen — and senior GOP staffers for a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee. At least one of the lawmakers swam nude, according to a report published Sunday night by Politico. The FBI later inquired about the incident to determine whether there was any impropriety, the report said.
According to the report, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of partially-clothed members, some spouses and family members and the staffers, “more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses” told Politico.
Senior Republican aides, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, confirmed the general outlines of the report but denied that the FBI inquired specifically about any potential impropriety.
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In an e-mail, FBI spokesman Bill Carter would not confirm or deny any investigation, “nor do we confirm that interviews may have taken place with regards to that trip.”
But a law enforcement source said that the FBI may have conducted interviews that pertain to campaign finance allegations made against Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.), who went on the trip to Israel – and then traveled to Cyprus.
Grimm’s office has not been contacted or notified of any investigation regarding his travels to Israel or Cyprus, according to spokeswoman Carol Danko.
In a television interview Monday with a New Hampshire station, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the incident “reprehensible” and “another terrible mistake by individuals.” His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in the same interview, called the behavior “unbecoming of a member of Congress.”
Top aides to Yoder did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement to Politico, Yoder said that he and his wife joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee. “After dinner I followed some Members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit,” Yoder said in the statement. “It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and [for] any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize.”
Yoder, elected in 2010, represents the 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, which encompasses an area west of Kansas City.
The report said that other lawmakers involved in the late-night swim included Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and his daughter; Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and his wife; and Reps. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.).
In an e-mail, Reed spokesman Tim Kolpien said that the lawmaker and his wife swam with the group “appropriately clothed” and that “there was no impropriety, and he is unaware of any investigation.” Spokesmen for the other members did not return requests for comment.
In addition to Grimm, who faces a difficult reelection, the incident could prove most politically harmful for Quayle, who faces a competitive primary next week against Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.).
Chris Baker, a campaign spokesman for Schweikert, said Monday that the congressman is “disappointed, but not surprised, given Congressman Quayle’s history.” Baker said Schweikert was referring to Quayle’s admission two years ago that he once used a pseudonym while writing for an adult-themed Web site.
Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Monday that reports of the incident look “more like a scene out of ‘Animal House’ than a delegation of Members of Congress representing America in Israel – one of our most important security partners.” In a statement, Ferguson also asked whether House GOP leaders were withholding any information of other investigations.
In Florida, David Bergstein, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, called news of Southerland’s involvement “an embarrassment to all Floridians.”
The trip, funded by American Israel Educational Foundation, ran from Aug. 13 to Aug. 21, 2011, and included lectures, tours of religious sites and meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and other political figures, according to an itinerary provided Monday by AIEF.
Staff writer Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.
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