The Republican colleagues of Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, have come out strongly to defend him saying that his comments in June last year that the then-presidential candidate Trump was on Russian president Putin’s payroll was a joke. In a recording that was obtained by The Washington Post, the House Majority Leader is heard talking to colleagues including Speaker Paul Ryan who were huddled in a room.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said in the recording.

Baltic States

The recording was made on a day when Ryan and McCarthy had earlier separately met the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman, where they were briefed on the strategies the Kremlin employs to fund populist politicians with a view to undermining the democratic institutions in the Baltics.

Among the people who leaped to McCarthy’s defense when the report of the recording was made public included Representative Dana Rohrabacher, whom McCarthy had accused of being on Putin’s payroll in the audio tape. In the defense of McCarthy, Rohrabacher argued that it was just an attempt at humor and it should not be taken seriously. This was echoed by Representative Bill Flores a Republican from Texas who said the statements the House Majority Leader was said to have uttered lacked credibility.

Sense of humor

Representative David Valadao a Republican from California who is close to the House Majority Leader explained that his close friend had a sense of humor and the remark was obviously an attempt at a joke. Another Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity denied that McCarthy could have made such a remark in a serious way since the House Majority Leader was not in possession of any intelligence on Putin’s activities at the time.

Some of the Republicans who were present in the room with McCarthy claimed they couldn’t recall hearing the House Majority Leader say anything of the sort. This included the deputy chief whip, Representative Patrick McHenry a Republican from North Carolina. The chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington, also denied hearing the remarks.