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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in 2016: 'There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump'

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

In a private meeting with Republican colleagues last year, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy commented that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and California congressional colleague Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) were being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said in the recording of a June 15 exchange obtained and published by the Washington Post. At that point, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) cut off the conversation and swore those present to secrecy.

The Post also provided a full transcript of the tape.

McCarthy's and Ryan's offices quickly pushed back on the story, stressing that the premise of the tape was misconstrued in reporters' questions, and that McCarthy was joking.

The transcript of the tape repeatedly notes laughter, and that McCarthy was laughing.

Rohrabacher's long-standing friendliness toward Russia has been a source of confusion in Washington for years.

Rohrabacher's spokesman Ken Grubbs told the Post that the congressman has been a consistent advocate of “working closer with the Russians to combat radical Islamism. The congressman doesn’t need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion.”

One of Rohrabacher's 2018 challengers, Harley Rouda, quickly said that the FBI should investigate what ties the congressman has to Russia. Rouda's campaign said he would be sending a letter to the Los Angeles field office of the FBI on Thursday as a concerned citizen.

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