House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says his assertion last year that Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying President Donald Trump was merely a bad attempt at humor.
“It was a bad attempt at a joke,” McCarthy told reporters leaving the House floor Wednesday, minutes after The Washington Post reported his comments from a private Capitol Hill conversation during the 2016 campaign.
“That’s all there is to it,” McCarthy added. “No one believes it to be true.”
The Post reported McCarthy said in a conversation with fellow Republican leaders: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” according to a recording of the June 2016 exchange.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is an Orange County Republican who is a staunch defender of Putin.
Lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment, the Post reported, and then he added, “swear to God.”
McCarthy and Ryan’s aides initially denied the story, which McCarthy said was because “no one even remembers it transpiring.”
“You don’t have a sense of humor anymore? People aren’t supposed to be able to laugh?” McCarthy said Wednesday when asked why he’d joke about that. “There’s a reason why I’m not a comedian.”
The Post story was posted almost simultaneously with the news that the Department of Justice was appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.