Kevin McCarthy really doesn't want to talk about his 2016 'joke' that Vladimir Putin pays Trump

Kevin McCarthy really doesn't want to talk about his 2016 'joke' that Vladimir Putin pays Trump
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Screengrab

House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is feeling just a little bit touchy, now that Donald Trump’s Russian and Ukrainian chickens are coming home to roost in the impeachment proceedings. In a press conference Thursday, journalist Andrew Feinberg asked him if he still believed that Donald Trump was one of two American politicians paid by Vladimir Putin. "It was a joke," a testy McCarthy responded, huffing, "That's embarrassing you would even ask that."​​​​


Embarrassing to McCarthy, yes. Let’s review the incident. Republican leaders were having deadly serious conversation after McCarthy and then-House Speaker Paul Ryan had just left a meeting with then-Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described Russia's tactics in undermining the government of Ukraine. Ryan, quoting Groysman, said he told them about "all the things Russia does to basically blow up our country, they're just going to roll right through us and go to the Baltics and everyone else."

At that point Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers chimed in about her recent trip to Ukraine, saying that her "big takeaway from that trip was just how sophisticated the propaganda […] coming out of Russia and Putin." Ryan concurred, "This isn't just about Ukraine." It's a sophisticated "propaganda war" that Ryan called "maniacal." Then he said, "Guess who's the only one taking a strong stand up against it? We are."

In popped McCarthy with his famous pronouncement: "There's two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God."

To which Ryan, clearly in on the "joke," threatened, "This is an off the record. NO LEAKS. All right?! [...] This is how we know we're a real family here. [...] What's said in the family stays in the family."

But sure, it was all just a big joke.

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