Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers doesn’t think Vladimir Putin was paying Donald Trump last summer as questions about Russian influence in the elections were surfacing. But she also didn’t agree with other Republican House leaders that the United States was doing all it could to take a stand against a propaganda war being waged against Ukraine.
Some comments the Spokane Republican made during a June 2016 meeting of House GOP leaders appeared in a Washington Post story on Thursday. In the meeting, Republicans discuss their concerns over Russian interference in neighboring Ukraine and the newly-broken news that Russian hackers had broken into Democratic National Committee computers.
In a tape recording reviewed by the Post, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggests Trump was being paid by the Russian leader. At the time, Trump was the likely GOP presidential nominee and the only candidate for the party still in the race.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy says on the tape, the Post reported. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has a history of defending Putin and Russia.
House Speaker Paul Ryan later cautioned the group that the discussion was off the record and there should be no leaks because “what’s said in the family stays in the family.”
After initially denying that any such conversation took place, spokesmen for Speaker Paul Ryan and McCarthy later told the Post it was “an attempt at humor.”
On Thursday, Molly Drenkard, spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers, echoed that assessment.
“Clearly, this was an attempt at humor during a private meeting held nearly a year ago,” Drenkard wrote in an email. “The congresswoman does not believe President Trump nor Mr. Rohrabacher are paid by Russia.”
McMorris Rodgers is quoted briefly in the story in part of the conversation leading up to McCarthy’s comment, as Ryan discussed a recent conversation he had with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman about Russian efforts to undermine his country and other Eastern European democracies through propaganda and other tactics.
A transcript of the recording available on the Post website shows a longer conversation between Ryan and McMorris Rodgers about the propaganda war being waged. It closely matches a February interview she had with The Spokesman-Review about her concerns over Russia’s ability to use propaganda to influence the United States and Europe.
McMorris Rodgers said in that interview she had been to Ukraine in 2015 as part of congressional trip to Europe to study energy. As she had in the meeting with Ryan and McCarthy last June, she said in February she was concerned about a sophisticated effort to spread propaganda, including through Russia Today, a cable news channel funded by the Russian government.
“Guess who’s the only one taking a strong stand against it? We are,” Ryan said on the tape of the June 2016 meeting.
“We’re not,” she replies. “But we’re not.”
Drenkard said McMorris Rodgers wasn’t suggesting Republicans were failing to take a strong stand against Russia and for Ukraine. Rather, she was “talking broadly about the U.S.’s efforts to push back against Russia,” Drenkard said in reply to an email requesting an interview with the congresswoman to clarify her position.