House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, told fellow GOP leaders last year that he believed then-candidate Donald Trump was paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The Post also reports that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Eastern Washington was among the Republicans involved in the conversation.
The revelation comes the same day a special counsel was appointed by the Department of Justice to investigate Russia's alleged interference in the presidential election and whether any members of the Trump campaign were involved.
The Post said it listened to and verified a recording of a June 15, 2016 conversation in which McCarthy said, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."
"Swear to God," McCarthy reportedly added after lawmakers laughed at the comment.
Rohrabacher is in reference to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who reportedly has defended Putin and Russia.
Related: Transcript of the conversation among GOP leaders (first obtained by the Washington Post)
House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly stopped the conversation immediately and swore all the Republicans present to secrecy, saying “No leaks...This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
The Post reported that spokespeople for McCarthy and Ryan claimed McCarthy never made the comments. When told the Post had access to a recording of the conversation, those spokespeople then said it was an attempt at humor.
A spokesperson for McMorris Rodgers also downplayed the conversation.
“Clearly this was an attempt at a humorous joke during a private meeting held nearly a year ago," Molly Drenkard, a spokesperson for McMorris Rodgers wrote in a statement. "The Congresswoman obviously does not believe President Trump nor Mr. Rohrabacher are paid by Russia. She supports the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference with our election and supports the decision to appoint a special counsel to oversee the investigation.”
Republicans have largely remained silent on the Trump-Russia investigation. Ryan on Wednesday argued against a rush to judgment over the cascading revelations coming out of the White House, saying "'We need the facts.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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