House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy privately told his colleagues last year that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin "pays" then-candidate Donald Trump, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
"There's two people I think Putin pays: [Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump," the California Republican said, according to a June recording that the newspaper reported it "listened to and verified."
Responding to the Washington Post story on Wednesday, McCarthy said it was "a bad attempt at a joke," according to MSNBC.
McCarthy and House Speaker Paul Ryan have defended now-President Trump recently as his White House faces a string of controversies, some of which are related to the FBI investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
That probe — which is now being led by a special counsel — includes looking into any possible links between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin.
In a tweet Wednesday, Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said McCarthy "was just kidding" and that "no one took it seriously."
At the time of the recording, Ryan reportedly told lawmakers to keep the conversation private, saying "no leaks."