House majority leader in 2016: 'I think Putin pays Trump'

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., right, speaks with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in 2016, following a House Republican leadership meeting. (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP)

As Donald Trump was laying waste to a field of 18 Republican challengers en route to claiming his party’s presidential nomination, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was caught making a quip about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said, according to a recording of the exchange on June 15, 2016, obtained by the Washington Post. The other reference was to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who was profiled last year in Politico as “Putin’s Favorite Congressman.”

In response the remark, to which several colleagues are heard responding to with laughter, House Speaker Paul Ryan is heard interjecting a warning to keep the conversation from leaving Capitol Hill.

“No leaks…This is how we know we’re a real family here,” Ryan said, according to the Post.

The timing of the release of the exchange is awkward for the Republican leadership who are under mounting pressure to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia during the 2016 election.

On Wednesday, one day after the New York Times reported that President Trump pressured former FBI Director James Comey to quash an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with Moscow, Ryan was asked whether he still had confidence in the president. “I do,” Ryan responded.

When asked to comment about the 2016 exchange about Trump and Putin, spokespeople for both Ryan and McCarthy denied the encounter took place, the Post reported. When the newspaper informed them that it had a recording of the comments, the spokespersons portrayed the comments as a joke.