Federal prosecutors in Arizona have opened a preliminary investigation into a camping trip that an Arizona lawmaker took with two former pages and others in 1996, according to a law enforcement official.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., took the former pages as well as staff members and National Park Service officials on a Fourth of July rafting trip in the Grand Canyon in 1996, his spokeswoman Korenna Cline said Friday.
An allegation related to the trip was given to the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, but it was not immediately clear whether it concerned any contention of improper activity by Kolbe.
The official described the inquiry as preliminary and far narrower in scope than the federal investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned two weeks ago amid reports about sexually explicit e-mails he sent to pages.
A second law enforcement official said the 1996 trip may be too old to investigate as a criminal action. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment.
Cline said the rafting party included five current staffers, two former pages and Kolbe’s sister. Nothing inappropriate happened on the trip, she said. She did not know who the pages were or what year they worked for Kolbe, but she said they paid their own way.
Beth Kolbe, the congressman’s younger sister who was on the three-night trip, said nothing inappropriate happened and that she had not heard of any concerns from anyone until the story of the camping trip appeared in the media.
“It’s preposterous,” she said of any allegations that taking the pages along was inappropriate.
She said the group included the then-deputy park superintendent and two rangers, who served as guides and interpreters. She said it was too hot to sleep in tents, so everyone slept out in the open by the water.
At the time of the trip, Rep. Kolbe served on a subcommittee that oversaw the national park system. He visited the park to look at National Park Service operations and fire reconnaissance.
Kolbe, 64, is the only openly gay Republican in Congress.
He was pulled into the unfolding Foley scandal when he said this week that a former page had complained in 2001 or 2002 about e-mails the page had received from Foley that made him feel uncomfortable. Kolbe said he referred the matter to the House clerk and that someone from Kolbe’s office confronted Foley himself.
Kolbe, who is retiring this year after 22 years in the House, was a page from 1958 to 1960 for Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.
He served on the board that oversees the page program between 1995 and February 2001. He frequently offers his home to former pages, interns, constituents and colleagues visiting Washington.
He is traveling in Europe and has declined interviews. Cline said he had not hired a lawyer in the matter.