Louisiana's highest-ranking Congressman was among GOP House leaders this week included in an eyebrow-raising report from The Washington Post over comments made about President Donald Trump's ties to Russia during a secretly-recorded leadership meeting.
The Post reported House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republican leaders, including U.S. Majority Whip Steve Scalise and House Speaker Paul Ryan: "There's two people I think Putin pays: (Republican California Rep. Dana) Rohrabacher and Trump."
Those involved in the meeting, including Scalise, have waved off the exchange as a joke, though the Post reported it as a "politically explosive assertion" that "Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin."
The Post has not released a recording. A transcript includes several notes of "laughter" throughout.
Members of Louisiana's U.S. Congressional delegation said Wednesday that they wanted more in…
Scalise is quoted near the end as saying "That's how you know we're tight" in response to Ryan's remarks about the exchange being "off the record" and among "real family."
“As everyone in the room last June understood, and as the transcript makes clear, this was an attempt at humor by Majority Leader McCarthy," Scalise spokesman Chris Bond said Thursday. "He reiterated that fact yesterday. Clearly, everyone takes Russian interference in our elections extremely seriously, which is why both the House and Senate are carrying out separate bipartisan investigations, and why the Department of Justice is carrying out their own investigation to which they just appointed a special counsel. These investigations ought to be carried out with thoroughness and fairness.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, called the report "dumb."
"He was just kidding," Buck said on Twitter. "No one took it seriously."
McCarthy told reporters from multiple outlets on Wednesday as he left the House floor that it was a "bad joke."
"No one believes it to be true," he said.
News of the June 2016 exchange came amid a round of highly-charged reports regarding Trump's links to Russia, including a report from The New York Times that former FBI director James Comey believed Trump was trying to influence an investigation into one of his associate's ties to Russia.