House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was reportedly caught on tape saying: "There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," on June 15, 2016.
The Washington Post listened to the audio, and verified it on May 17, 2017. "Rohrabacher" is a reference to Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California who has strongly defended Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After McCarthy made his comment, some Republican lawmakers were heard laughing, and McCarthy added: "Swear to God."
House Speaker Paul Ryan stopped the conversation, and told the lawmakers: "No leaks. . . This is how we know we’re a real family here."
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Evan McMullin, who was present for the conversation and was a policy director for the House Republican Conference at the time, told The Washington Post: "It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking."
Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesman, told the newspaper: "That never happened," but later said on Twitter: "Goodness, I don’t lie. Period. What was presented to me originally was far different than what they ultimately presented: an obvious joke."
Alex Moe of NBC News tweeted a video of McCarthy rushing down a hallway and issuing a similar denial: "If you listen to it, it said everybody laughs, so it was a bad attempt at a joke and that's all there is to it. No one believes it to be true [unintelligible]."
McCarthy also tweeted: "This was an attempt at humor gone wrong. No surprise [WashingtonPost] tried to contort this into breaking news."
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Rohrabacher said that McCarthy was joking, notes the Washington Examiner, after McCarthy gave him a warning about The Washington Post story:
He was joking. He does that. He sort of makes jokes like that. There's nothing wrong with that. It would be wrong for everyone to think it's a news story that [McCarthy] jokes around that way. He told me, he says "Dana, remember when I was joking around some place and blah blah, I mentioned that," and I said, "Yeah, okay. Fine." You have to be very careful when you're using humor... I'm sure Kevin didn't mean any harm -- I'm sure.
Rohrabacher told POLITICO in November 2016 how he faces resistance regarding Russia: "I get pushback whenever I’m asking for an honest assessment of a situation in which Russia is being vilified. I don’t know where this is all coming from but there’s clearly a herculean effort to push us back into a cold war."