House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told colleagues last year that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays” Donald Trump, according to an audio recording obtained by The Washington Post.
The California congressman, who endorsed Trump during the campaign, made the bombshell assertion in conversation with fellow lawmakers ― including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― a few months before the election.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, according to the recording. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, another Republican from California, is a fierce defender of Russia and Putin.
“Swear to God,” McCarthy added, after some of the lawmakers laughed at the statement.
According to the Post, Ryan quickly interjected and urged the lawmakers to keep the conversation private.
“No leaks. ...This is how we know we’re a real family here,” the speaker said.
Representatives for both McCarthy and Ryan disputed the nature of the conversation.
McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks called the congressman’s comment a “failed attempt at humor.” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, called the Post’s account “dumb.”
“He was just kidding. No one took it seriously,” Buck said of McCarthy.
The recording, a transcript of which has been published here by the Post, comes amid news that the Department of Justice has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.