Last year, while Donald Trump was working to win the Republican presidential nomination, one of his closest allies, then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, told fellow GOP leaders in a private conversation on Capitol Hill that he believed Trump might be receiving payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a June 15, 2016, recording, referring to then-presidential candidate Trump and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican whom the Washington Post reports is known in Congress as a “fervent defender of Putin and Russia.”
The Post reports that it listened to and verified the recording on which House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is heard immediately interjecting, stopping the conversation from speculating further on McCarthy’s assertion, and swearing the Republicans present to secrecy.
Prior to that conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had come from separate talks at the U.S. Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions, according to the Post.
The day before that conversation, the Post broke the news that Russian government hackers had broken into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, which prompted McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.
Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent for president in 2016 but who participated in the June 15 conversation in his role as policy director for the House Republican Conference, told the Post: “It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking.”
When the Post asked Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck for a comment on the exchange, Buck said, “That never happened.”
Similarly, McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said, “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”
Once the Post revealed that it had a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking on behalf of the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”
In addition, Sparks said, “This was a failed attempt at humor.”
The conversation as reported in the Post:
That’s when McCarthy brought the conversation about Russian meddling around to the DNC hack, Trump and Rohrabacher.
“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is. ... The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.
Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.
“There’s ... there’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added.
“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.
Some lawmakers laughed at that.
“No leaks, all right?” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” [Rep. Steve] Scalise [R-La.] said.
“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added.
The family might be about to have a feud.
Read more at the Washington Post.