A Kansas congressman's 10-second naked plunge into the sea where the Bible says Jesus walked on water prompted apologies Monday from him, head-shaking from other Republicans and the kind of international attention that no politician wants.
House records show that at least 22 Republican congressmen and staff members were on the eight-day trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity whose mission includes educating politicians about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. The group's schedule included meetings with the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and more than two dozen other events.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, was on the trip and said he swam in the Sea of Galilee but did not know U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder was skinny dipping.
"My wife and I did go swimming in the Sea of Galilee with a big group of people. We were appropriately clothed. ... From my perspective, we didn't see anything that was inappropriate," Reed said in a conference call Monday. "It was after a casual dinner. We were in shorts and a golf shirt. ... We decided to join the group and go swimming."
Contrary to early reports, the Associated Press has reported the FBI wasn't investigating the incident. The FBI learned of the skinny dipping during its investigation of illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, who was also on the trip.
The swimming occurred after an Aug. 18, 2011, dinner at a restaurant. Yoder said it was dark and members of the party jumped into the Sea of Galilee individually, not as a group. Yoder said he and his wife, Brooke, who was with him, had wine with dinner, but "alcohol did not play a role." Other lawmakers on the trip also went into the water at what's considered a holy site for many Christians, and Yoder said their actions earned them a rebuke from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Swimming in the lake is permitted but public nudity is not allowed, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said no official complaint had been made against Yoder, but it was possible he could still be charged even a year later.
"I believe Mr. Yoder ... did come out and admit he did do that. Obviously that was not appropriate," Reed said.
When asked about the timing of the news, Reed noted, "It's interesting that almost a year later, this is coming out. It reminded me that as a public official, we live in a fish bowl. We're going to have to consider that in the future. ... (The) bottom line is we have nothing to hide."
Nate Shinagawa, Reed's opponent in the local congressional race, responded to the incident in a press release.
"The trip to a country considered a holy land by Americans and Israelis alike included meetings with Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It took a turn that outraged Republican party leadership and prompted an FBI investigation," Shinagawa said in the statement. "... We must be able to trust our elected officials to behave appropriately while representing our district in Washington and our country while overseas."
Shirley Pulawski of the Dunkirk OBSERVER contributed to this report.