WASHINGTON – A caller’s off-handed comment about shooting Maine Sen. Susan Collins in order to catch her ear on immigration reform instead drew attention from liberal organizations on Thursday.

Federal law enforcement planned to investigate whether the comment was merely an off-color attempt at humor, as some interpreted it, or something more serious.

The statement, which was first reported by the liberal blog ThinkProgress.org, was allegedly made Wednesday during a conference call on immigration reform hosted by the conservative organization the Eagle Forum. A moderate Republican, Collins is regarded as a potential swing vote on the issue.

When one caller – identified in transcripts posted online as “Bob from Maine” – asked for suggestions on how his local Tea Party could convince Collins to listen to them on immigration reform, another unidentified caller chimed in with the statement, “shoot her.” The comment apparently elicited laughter from some on the call.

The moderator then replied, “Yes, we will shoot her with . . . (inaudible) and phone calls,” according to ThinkProgress, which is a project of the progressive advocacy group the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The blog post was published under the headline “Tea Party Conference Call Features Threat to Assassinate U.S. Senator.” Several other liberal blogs quickly re-posted versions of the story under headlines that also pointed out the tea party connection.

It is a federal crime to threaten a member of Congress.

Collins’ office declined to comment on the issue Thursday. A spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police, which would be involved in any investigation, said they were looking into the matter.

Collins has yet to say where she stands on the bipartisan bill expected to come up for a vote in the Senate in the coming weeks, although she has called for immigration reform.

“While I want to look closely at the details, I believe that any reforms must secure our borders, deter illegal immigration, and favor those who have followed our immigration laws,” Collins said earlier this month.

“Reform should also include a fair way for young people brought to the U.S. as children to remain in this country as long as they have clean records, and to allow the best and the brightest educated in the U.S. in technical areas where there are not currently a sufficient number of Americans to stay and build their futures and create jobs here.”

The Eagle Forum’s conference call was apparently open to any callers but featured talks by several speakers, including Stephen Miller, the communications director for Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Sessions has been an outspoken critic of the bipartisan reform bill negotiated by the “Gang of 8″ senators, and Miller was invited to give an update on the issue.

An aide in Sessions’ office said that Miller had left the call before the “shoot her” statement but after hearing about it, the aide described the comment as “despicable.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com