U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas apologized to his constituents Sunday night after a published report revealed the freshman lawmaker swam nude in the Sea of Galilee during a private fact-finding trip to the Mideast last August.
Politico reported the incident in a story on its website Sunday. The website said the FBI investigated the trip, which included other lawmakers and their spouses, as well as staff members.
“I feel incredibly remorseful that I have caused embarrassment to my constituents and I have caused folks who believe in me to be disappointed,” Yoder told The Star Sunday night.
“The gravity of the situation and the actions I’ve taken are not lost on me, and I feel certainly regret at what has occurred, and I just want to apologize to my constituents for a momentary lapse in judgment.”
It was not immediately clear what the FBI might have examined in relation to the trip. Yoder and his chief of staff, Travis Smith, said neither the Republican congressman nor any members of his staff had talked to the FBI.
But the revelation of the incident could prove embarrassing for Yoder. In its story, Politico said it was told privately that alcohol may have been involved in the incident, which took place the evening of Aug. 18, 2011. Smith said the congressman had wine at dinner but was not drunk.
Yoder, 36, admitted he dove into the sea “without a swimsuit.”
Christians consider the Sea of Galilee a holy site; it is where the Bible says Jesus walked on water.
“Part of the reason I made that decision at that moment was there was really nobody in the vicinity who could see me,” he said. “I dove in, hopped right back out, put my clothes on and, regardless, that was still not the behavior people expected out of their congressman.”
He said it was dark out with visibility limited to only a few feet, and said he was in the water for about 10 seconds before climbing out.
Politico said Yoder was the only person to remove all his clothes. His wife, Brooke, accompanied him on the trip, but she did not swim.
The trip, said to have been open only to those 18 and over, was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, according to a database of travel records maintained by Legistorm.com. The trip lasted from Aug. 13 to Aug. 21 last year, the record show, and cost the foundation $20,087 for Yoder and his wife’s travel, lodging, meals and other expenses.
The foundation, a charity, says its mission is to provide grants for educational programs and conferences and to “help educate political leaders and influentials about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through first-hand experiences in Israel.”
The foundation is connected with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is connected with many conservatives in Congress.
In its story, Politico said 20 lawmakers and staff members were believed to have jumped in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, out of roughly 30 on the trip. It reported that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the senior Republican on the trip, scolded members for their behavior after the incident.
Cantor did not swim that evening, the story said.
Citing sources, the website said other freshmen swam in the sea, including Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida and his daughter, Rep. Tom Reed of New York and his wife, and Reps. Ben Quayle of Arizona, Jeff Denham of California and Michael Grimm of New York. All the lawmakers are Republicans.
Although Yoder and his staff had not been interviewed by the FBI, staff for other members of Congress have apparently spoken with authorities.
Yoder is running unopposed for re-election in Kansas’ 3rd District.