Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais participates Feb. 15, 2012, in a hearing led by the Committee on House Oversight and Reform in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said Monday he was not involved in a late-night swim that resulted in one Republican lawmaker jumping into the Sea of Galilee nude after dinner during a fact-finding trip in August 2011 to Israel.
“While the congressman was on the trip to Israel reinforcing our nation’s relationship with this important ally, he was not involved in the incident in question,” said Robert Jameson, communications director for DesJarlais, in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel.
“The congressman did not see the incident,” he said, in reference to whether he witnessed U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican from Kansas, strip naked before jumping into the lake.
The Sea of Galilee is considered by Christians as one of the most holy sites in the Middle East because it is where Jesus Christ walked on water, according to the Bible.
Nearly 30 members of Congress and their staff participated in the trip, which was privately funded through the American Israel Education Foundation, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, of Ooltewah, Tenn., who also denied any involvement in the swim.
The trip took place from Aug. 13 through Aug. 21, 2011, and it was sponsored so that freshman congressmen could have a chance to meet Middle Eastern leaders and discuss international politics with officials from various groups.
According to financial disclosure records filed with the House Ethics Committee, the Israeli foundation spent nearly $10,000 per person on the trip. In related documents, the organization paid for more than $19,000 in travel expenses for DesJarlais, who was accompanied by his wife, Amy, to Israel.
More than 20 people, including congressional staff members, joined Yoder for the swim, although several sources said no one else skinny-dipped, according to Politico, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.
Despite numerous sources confirming Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, sharply rebuked the actions of those who participated in the swim, the issue has quickly become an embarrassing gaffe for the party.
Within hours of the story breaking, members of the Tennessee Democratic Party and his opponent quickly lambasted DesJarlais over the ballooning Republican Party scandal – one that could potentially harm his re-election campaign.
“I am not surprised to hear about DesJarlais’ lobbyist-funded vacation,” said Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart, who is challenging the Jasper, Tenn., native in the 4th Congressional District race.
“It takes most freshmen a couple of cycles to figure out all the perks of the office,” he said. “DesJarlais has proved to be a quick study when it comes to helping himself.”
Further seizing on the moment, Stewart said the trip was an example of an out-of-touch Republican Party, and he condemned DesJarlais for accepting an invitation from the Israeli foundation.
“He took a $19,000 vacation from lobbyists within months of being in office,” he said, “at the same time when many of the counties he represents have double-digit unemployment rates.”