GOP sources: Politico skinny-dipping ‘scoop’ was likely Schweikert-on-Quayle primary attack

Three different high-ranking Republican staffers on Capitol Hill have told The Daily Caller of a growing consensus that at least part of a Sunday article by Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan was planted by Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert in order to damage his primary opponent, Rep. Ben Quayle.

Schweikert’s office denies the charge, but a campaign spokesperson would only say that the congressman never “gave” or “provided” the entire story to the Virginia-based news outlet. Quayle’s involvement in the saga, while embarrassing, was relatively minor.

The story itself contained significant inaccuracies pertaining to both an alleged FBI investigation and Quayle’s involvement in what became a one-day mini-scandal. Politico reported that several freshman GOP members of Congress on an official trip to Israel went on an alcohol-fueled swim in the Sea of Galilee.

The Politico story disclosed that Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder went skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee. Yoder has apologized.

Other GOP lawmakers and staffers, according to Politico, joined Yoder for the swim — among them Quayle, Florida Rep. Steve Southerland, New York Reps. Tom Reed and Michael Grimm, and California Rep. Jeff Denham. Politico reported that those details were confirmed by unnamed GOP sources.

Sherman and Bresnahan also charged that the FBI investigated the event. “The FBI looked into whether any inappropriate behavior occurred,” they wrote, “but the interviews do not appear to have resulted in any formal allegations of wrongdoing.”

Sherman, Bresnahan and Politico drove the story Monday, getting higher- and higher-ranking politicians to comment on the incident, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, all of whom criticized the congressmen involved. MSNBC featured the story on “Morning Joe,” where Mark Halperin slammed the GOP congressmen’s antics.

But late Monday, Ryan Reilly at the left-leaning publication Talking Points Memo discovered that there was no such FBI investigation, despite Politico’s reporting to the contrary.

“The FBI is indeed interested in a trip that House Republicans made to Israel last summer,” Reilly wrote. “But it’s not because Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder took his pants off and jumped into the Sea of Galilee after a night of drinking. Law enforcement sources — noting that skinny-dipping usually doesn’t fall under the FBI’s purview — pointed TPM to a New York Times story from earlier this month about a trip to Cyprus that Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) made following his August venture to Israel alongside several colleagues.”

The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times have also confirmed that the FBI was not investigating what happened that night, but was looking into Grimm’s financial disclosures. Grimm has never been charged in relation with those financial disclosures, and he has denied any wrongdoing.

Sherman and Bresnahan relied on a quote from the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to support their reporting that the FBI investigated the Sea of Galilee skinny-dip.

“Last year, a staffer was contacted by the Bureau [FBI], which had several questions, the staffer answered those questions and that appears to have been the end of it,” Cantor deputy chief of staff Doug Heye told Politico.

Heye did not, however, discuss the purpose of the FBI’s involvement. And Sherman and Bresnahan stopped short of alleging that Heye’s statement confirmed their assertion about an FBI investigation. But late Tuesday morning, after The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Talking Points Memo criticized his article, Sherman tweeted that Heye’s comment did confirm that assertion.

When asked for details about any FBI probe of the swim party, Heye referred The Daily Caller to the original Politico article. Heye also refused to express support for Sherman’s characterization of his comments on Twitter.

Politico has not issued a correction; editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei have not responded to TheDC’s request for comment.