A leading Republican in the U.S. Congress in June 2016 made a quip during a private meeting of fellow lawmakers that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be making payments to Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
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House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the assertion, the newspaper reported, saying the conversation was recorded last June, during the primary election season when Trump was seeking to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee.
According to the Washington Post report, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, interrupted McCarthy and urged Republicans present to keep McCarthy's remarks secret.
The newspaper report quoted McCarthy saying, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."
McCarthy fired back at the report on Twitter on Wednesday, saying, "This was an attempt at humor gone wrong."
A spokesman for Ryan said the remarks were meant as humor and had been taken out of context.
“This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher on Wednesday told reporters that McCarthy's quip was a joke. “The trouble is, when you ever try to be funny, it is really taken seriously by a third party, and that’s what’s happened here,” he said.
Reuters does not have a copy of the tape and could not confirm authenticity or gauge whether McCarthy was joking.