House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republican colleagues in a private conversation last year that he thought Donald Trump was being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a Washington Post report published Wednesday.
McCarthy made the comments to House Speaker Paul Ryan and other party leaders in Washington on June 15, 2016 — a month before Trump clinched the Republican nomination, and just after news reports surfaced that Russia had hacked into the Democratic National Committee.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, the Post reported, citing a recording it obtained of the conversation. Dana Rohrabacher is a Republican congressman from California known for his staunchly pro-Russia views.
When some of his audience laughed at the comments, McCarthy added: “Swear to God,” the Post reported.
Ryan reportedly ended the conversation and insisted those present to not discuss it with the press.
“This is an off the record,” Ryan told staffers, laughing. “NO LEAKS…alright?! This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip, chimed in: “That’s how you know that we’re tight.”
“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan said.
The full transcript can be read here.
Spokespeople for both Ryan and McCarthy initially denied the conversation ever took place. But when the Post told them that there was a recording of the conversation, they said McCarthy’s comments were a joke.
“This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humour,” Ryan’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, told the Post. “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.”
Ryan has been under pressure to endorse the creation of a special congressional committee to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. That pressure has grown enormously since last Tuesday, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey — who was leading the bureau’s probe into Russia’s election interference — and reportedly disclosed classified information to Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting the next day.
Ryan defended Trump’s decision to dismiss Comey, telling reporters he thought Trump “lost patience” in the FBI Director “and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Comey himself.” The FBI’s Acting Directr, Andrew McCabe, disputed claims that agents had been disillusioned with Comey’s leadership during a Senate Judiciary Hearing last week.
Republican lawmakers appeared to reach a tipping point on Tuesday night, when the New York Times reported that Trump had asked Comey to end the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. But the House Speaker confirmed on Wednesday that he still has full confidence in Trump, and asked why Comey had not resigned in protest if he felt that what Trump had asked of him was inappropriate.
“The last thing I’m going to do is pre-judge anything,” he said said in a press conference held at the Republican National Committee. “I’m a person who wants to get the facts.”
More from Mark Abadi:
- House Majority Leader told Republicans in 2016 he thought Putin was paying Trump
- McCain: Trump scandal over Comey’s memo is of ‘Watergate size and scale’
- John McCain on recent reports about Trump: ‘It’s reaching Watergate size and scale’
- Lawmakers are sounding the alarm over reports that Trump tried to squash the Flynn investigation
- Alan Dershowitz: ‘This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president’
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