The hits keep on coming for Donald Trump and on Wednesday the latest chart topper is that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told a small group of GOP leaders last year that he believes Trump is on Vladimir Putin’s payroll. McCarthy made the off hand, presumably joking, remark on June 15, 2016, a month before the Republican convention, where Trump would officially be crowned the party’s candidate for president. The Washington Post unearthed a recording of the conversation that included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was on Capitol Hill that day and Ryan and McCarthy met with Groysman separately. The Prime Minister outlined the Kremlin’s strategy of funding populist politicians in order to undermine democratic institutions in Russian’s sphere of influence in the Baltics. Later, McCarthy and Ryan discussed Trump (via the Post).
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia… Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God…” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy… Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks...This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Spokespeople for all involved immediately denied that the conversation took place, until they were told there was a recording, after which they said it was clearly a joke. The Post notes it’s impossible to tell whether McCarthy was kidding from the recording. In response to the story, McCarthy himself insisted he was not funny, but was trying to be.
We’ll see how that explanation plays with the notoriously thin-skinned president of the United States.