Was it just a bad joke, or was GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy “deadly serious” when he told other top Republicans that President Donald Trump and a long-serving conservative Republican member of Congress from Orange County are being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin?

The conversation described by the Washington Post took place almost a year ago, well before any notions of cooperation with Russia became D.C.’s hottest topic since Watergate and Monica Lewinsky. But as the political world in recent days has gone into crisis mode over allegations about Russian involvement with American leaders and in the U.S. presidential election, Democrats insisted the allegations were actually serious charges.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Thursday there are “deadly serious reasons” GOP Majority Leader McCarthy was not jesting when he said in a private meeting that President Donald Trump and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher were getting “paid” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rohrabacher’s spokesman, however, accused the Democrats of misrepresenting what was said in the private meeting to use as a partisan attack.

“This is a predictably tendentious and partisan accounting of the congressman’s views on Russia,” said Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs.

The Huntington Beach Republican’s views on Russia are “based on the commonsense belief that we should work more closely with Russia to fight Islamic terrorism and on a diplomatically formed understanding that our government, especially our Congress, should not gratuitously alienate Moscow as we pursue that objective,” Grubbs said.

The statements from the DCCC are “over the top,” he added.

The Democratic organization, however, pointed out that Rohrabacher has opposed sanctions against Russia in 2014 following the invasion of Crimea, lobbied against Russian-opposed legislation in Congress, opposed any more investigations of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and met with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort when he was lobbying for Putin- backed former Ukranian leader Victor Yanukovych.

“Congressman Rohrabacher has been labeled `Putin’s favorite congressman’ for some deadly serious reasons,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the DCCC. “Now that his colleagues acknowledge it as well, Rohrabacher’s relationship with an ex-Kremlin spy and attempts at derailing anti-Russian legislation must not be ignored.

“Rohrabacher has compromised himself and it is a grave risk to America’s standing in the world that he continues to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

The Washington Post has produced a transcript of a recording of the exchange between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, McCarthy, House Speaker Paul Ryan and others on June 15 of last year.

The group started the conversation about the goings-on in Ukraine and how Russia was using propaganda in its conflict with the neighboring country, which led to Ryan remarking about the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

“There’s … there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said.

The line drew laughter, prompting McCarthy to say “swear to God.”

McCarthy has insisted he was joking.

— City News Service

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