The FBI probed a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee that involved drinking, numerous GOP freshmen lawmakers, top leadership staff — and one nude member of Congress, according to more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses.
During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel, the sources told POLITICO. Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed, while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in the late-night dip in the sea, according to sources who were participants in the trip.
“A year ago, my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. 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 a statement to POLITICO. “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.”
Travis Smith, Yoder’s chief of staff, told POLITICO “Neither Congressman Yoder, nor his staff, have been interviewed by the FBI.”
These GOP sources confirmed the following freshmen lawmakers also went swimming that night: Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and his daughter; Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and his wife; Reps. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). Many of the lawmakers who ventured into the lake said they did so because of the religious significance of the waters. Others said they were simply cooling off after a long day. Several privately admitted that alcohol may have played a role in why some of those present decided to jump in.
The Sea of Galilee, a Christian holy site, is where Jesus is said in the Bible to have walked on water.
The FBI looked into whether any inappropriate behavior occurred, but the interviews do not appear to have resulted in any formal allegations of wrongdoing.
But Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who was the senior most GOP lawmaker in Israel on the trip, was so upset about the antics that he rebuked the 30 lawmakers the morning after the Aug. 18, 2011, incident, saying they were distracting from the mission of the trip.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was also on the privately funded excursion, which means two of the three top House Republicans were a part of this trip. Neither Cantor nor McCarthy went swimming that night, the sources said. Some of their staff did.
The account of that August 2011 night in Israel was pieced together for the first time by POLITICO based on interviews with more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses, as well as public records of the trip.
A Cantor spokesman confirmed that the majority leader dressed down his Republican colleagues and that a staffer was later interviewed by FBI agents.
“Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future,” said Doug Heye, Cantor’s deputy chief of staff.