The second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in a recorded conversation last summer that he thought then-candidate Donald Trump was being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Spokespeople insist he made the comment in jest.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made the remark in a private conversation with fellow Republican leaders on June 15, according to the report. A month earlier, McCarthy had signed up as a Republican National Convention delegate for Trump.
McCarthy and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had just come from separate meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who spoke with the two leaders about Russian military aggression in his country and that country’s efforts to undercut democracies across Europe, according to the report. They were joined in the private conversation by GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC).
The Post published a full transcript of the publication tape here, but here’s the relevant portion from the original report:
“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, alright?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” Scalise said.
“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added.
Spokespeople for Ryan and McCarthy told the Post, respectively: “That never happened,” and “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.” Both said the exchange could be called an attempt at humor.
On Twitter, the Ryan spokesman, Brendan Buck, claimed that “I was not originally given quotes – just a crazy assertion that leaders believed Putin was paying Trump and trying to shield it.” Post editor Scott Wilson responded: “This is not true.”
Asked by NBC about the comment, McCarthy said that “it was a bad attempt of a joke. There’s a reason why I’m not a comedian.”
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 17, 2017
This post has been updated.