The Washington Post has another front-pager on President Trump in regard to Russia: It dug up a recording from June 2016, a month before Trump clinched the nomination, in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tells a few fellow House members he thinks Trump is on Vladimir Putin's payroll. McCarthy, however, now says it was a bad joke. The Post hasn't made the recording available, but it has a transcript in which McCarthy is quoted as saying, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. The comment is met by laughter, and McCarthy adds, "Swear to God." At that point, House speaker Paul Ryan interjects and asks that nobody leak the conversation. "This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Spokesmen for McCarthy and Ryan initially denied the exchange, then said it was clearly a joke when told there was a recording. The Post story acknowledges "it is difficult to tell from the recording the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally," and McCarthy himself tells NBC News: "It was a bad attempt at a joke. That's all there is to it." Another bombshell? Not everybody thinks so:
- From the left: Kevin Drum at Mother Jones writes that he can buy the explanation of it being a joke. "McCarthy's comment really does sound like dark humor. Still, even if he didn't mean it literally, it shows just what he thought about Trump and the Russians. In humor, veritas."
- From the right: In a week of scoops, this is a "dud," writes Guy Benson at Townhall. For one thing, he thinks the Post should release the recording so people can judge tone for themselves because it reads like a "fleeting chuckle-fest" among lawmakers. As for Ryan's no-leak request, it makes sense he wouldn't want an out-of-context joke making headlines just as Trump's dicey relations with GOP leaders (including himself) were starting to heal.