The FBI warned a Republican congressman sometimes referred to as “Putin’s favorite” that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an “agent of influence” in 2012, the New York Times reported Friday.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told the Times that the warning had focused on his meeting with a member of the Russian Foreign Ministry during a trip to Moscow in 2012.
“They were telling me he had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence,” he said, referring to what an FBI agent had told him. Rohrabacher said he was told Russia “looked at me as someone who could be influenced.”
The California Republican told the Times he hadn’t needed the warning.
“Any time you meet a Russian member of their Foreign Ministry or the Russian government, you assume those people have something to do with Russian intelligence,” he told the paper.
Rohrabacher is well-known in Congress for his pro-Russia views. He recalled in a 2013 interview with KPCC that in the early 1990s, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was then the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, beat him in a drunken armwrestling match.
Last year he was floated as a potential candidate to serve as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state. In that capacity, Rohrabacher got into a heated argument with Yahoo News’ Bianna Golodryga, who pressed him on Russia’s human rights abuses.
He also figured in a Wednesday Washington Post report on a private conversation from June 2016 between House Republican leaders. According to audio accessed by the newspaper, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told his colleagues “There’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
McCarthy defended that comment as “a bad attempt of a joke.”
Rohrabacher said in a Friday interview with The Hill that McCarthy had apologized to him.
“He came up and said, ‘Dana, I’m really sorry, I told this joke and now people are trying to make it look like I was serious,'” Rohrabacher said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.'”
For the record, an unnamed official told the Times there was no evidence that Rohrabacher had been paid by Russia.