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Kevin McCarthy calls his remark about Putin paying Trump 'a bad attempt at a joke'

On Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that last June, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told GOP leaders he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying both Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Putin's vocal defenders in Congress. After the report was published, McCarthy told NBC News it was a "bad attempt at a joke."

The Post, which listened to and verified a recording of the remarks, reports McCarthy made his comments on June 15, 2016, and immediately, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ended the conversation and told the Republicans present to never reveal what was said. "No leaks ... this is how we know we're a real family here," Ryan said. The exchange took place after McCarthy and Ryan met separately with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had told them about the Russian government giving money to populist politicians in order to undermine democratic institutions across Eastern Europe, and following the news that Russian government hackers had gained access to the Democratic National Committee's computer network.

Initially, a spokesman for Ryan told the Post the exchange never happened, but after the paper said it would cite a recording, the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said the remark was "clearly an attempt at humor."