FBI officials said Monday they are not investigating any criminal wrongdoing in a late-night swim last summer in Israel involving drinking and several Republican congressmen, including one – Kevin Yoder of Kansas – who skinny-dipped in the Sea of Galilee.
The incident occurred during a fact-finding congressional trip for mostly freshmen GOP lawmakers and was paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation, during a night of revelry that eventually led to a late-night dip by congressmen and some of their aides.
Separately, FBI agents are inquiring about allegations of illegal campaign contributions to Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., who was on the trip. While agents have spoken to some staff aides and others, no formal investigation has been opened into Grimm either. Ofer Biton, an Israeli who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Grimm in 2010, has been charged in Brooklyn, N.Y., on immigration fraud charges.
Grimm was one of six congressmen who reportedly took part in the swim. The others, besides Yoder, included Republican Reps. Steve Southerland of Florida, Tom Reed of New York, Ben Quayle of Arizona and Jeff Denham of California.
Yoder, from Overland Park, apologized again Monday for embarrassing his supporters. Politico reported Sunday that he was the only one among the group of about 20 people who wore no clothes.
“It’s an embarrassing situation, and I regret it,” Yoder, 36, said during an interview Monday on public radio station KCUR-FM in Kansas City, Mo. “I know that many constituents out there are sort of scratching their heads, saying, ‘What is this guy up to? What was he doing? What was he thinking?’ ”
Yoder had been scheduled to participate Monday in a discussion on energy policy at the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association convention in Wichita, but he did not attend. However, he did the radio interview at the station’s studio, accompanied by his wife, Brooke.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who attended Monday’s event at the Wichita Airport Hilton, said that what he’s read and heard about the incident in Israel in August 2011 suggests something stupid happened. He said such incidents distract from important issues in politics.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who also was part of the energy policy discussion, said elected officials have an obligation to act in ways that live up to the trust voters put in them.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also weighed in.
Romney called Yoder’s actions reprehensible and a terrible mistake; Ryan labeled the incident unbecoming.
Some Christians consider the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, a holy site because they believe Jesus walked on water there. Swimming in the lake is permitted but public nudity is not allowed, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“If someone walks around the beach naked, that’s an offense,” Rosenfeld said in Jerusalem. He said no official complaint had been made against Yoder, but it was possible he could still be charged even a year later.
“If that kind of incident takes place and someone makes an official compliant, we’ll investigate,” Rosenfeld said Monday.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon called Yoder’s behavior “inexcusable” and said if the incident had occurred in Kansas, he would be forced to resign. She later issued a statement calling for him to step down.
“I’m astonished these people think they can go on these junkets like this and no one will know what they do,” Wagnon said.
The nine-day trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity which provides grants for educational programs and conferences, and educates politicians and influential people about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“At the time, it seemed very spontaneous,” Yoder said. “Somewhat afterwards, maybe the next day, I started thinking that maybe that wasn’t the smartest decision.”
Yoder said it was dark, and he was in the water for only about 10 seconds. He said his wife was with him but did not go into the water. He said members of the party jumped in individually, not as a group, and not everyone did.
“I jumped in, was in for 10 seconds, jumped back out,” Yoder said during his radio interview. “Just in and out – just to have the experience, really.”
Yoder acknowledged that he and his wife had wine with dinner before the incident but added, “Alcohol really played no role in the decision to go in. It was really a spontaneous moment with members at the Sea of Galilee, which is obviously a special place.
“I’ve never done that before, and I can tell you I’ll never do that again.”
Yoder said in his radio interview that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the senior Republican on the trip, was “very frustrated and upset” over the swimming and scolded delegates for their behavior.
Cantor, who was on the trip but was not present when the swim took place, “handled the situation swiftly and appropriately,” said spokesman Kevin Smith.
News of the event has added yet another tale of immodesty to a Congress that has seen its share of embarrassing improprieties.
Since the start of the 112th Congress, two congressmen – Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, and Christopher Lee, a New York Republican – stepped down after being caught sending suggestive pictures to women over the Internet. Former Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., resigned after reports of an “unwanted” sexual encounter, and former Sen. John Ensign stepped down after trying to cover up an extramarital affair with the wife of an aide.
Yoder’s sole opponent in the upcoming general election is Libertarian Joel Balam, of Overland Park. Yoder served in the Kansas House from 2003 through 2010 and was chairman of its Appropriations Committee.
In February 2009, Yoder was cited by the Kansas Highway Patrol for speeding and refusing to take a breath-alcohol test following an early-morning traffic stop on a state highway in the Lawrence area. He later pleaded guilty to refusing to take the test and paid a $90 fine.
The traffic stop briefly caused ruffles during his successful 2010 run for Congress, but Yoder’s campaign said he refused to take the breath test because he had passed another field sobriety test and wasn’t driving under the influence.
Wagnon promised that Democrats would field a strong candidate against Yoder in 2014 and would remind voters of the incident.
“I’m just sorry I don’t have anyone running against him, and it isn’t for lack of trying,” Wagnon said.
Contributing: Kansas City Star, Associated Press, Tribune Washington Bureau