It really was a joke. The transcript of the conversation that took place in June 2016, published by The Post, is very clear. So is the context. Republican politicians are discussing Russia and Ukraine at a congressional leadership meeting. Some of them have just met the Ukrainian prime minister, Vladimir Groysman, who described the situation in his country. House Speaker Paul Ryan says that Groysman “has this really interesting riff” about what Russia is doing in Ukraine: “Financing [Ukraine’s] populists, financing people in our governments to undo our governments.”
...Except that it was not really a joke after all.
At exactly that moment – the psychology is extraordinary — the conversation turns to the U.S. election. The Republicans discuss the hacked material from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that has just been made public. And that’s when Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, says, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: [Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump.” According to the transcript, “laughter” follows. McCarthy says, “Swear to God. . . .” More laughter. And then the group laughs again after the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, says “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
At The New York Times, Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Mark Mazzetti report that the FBI once warned Rohrabacher that the Russians were trying to recruit him.
In a secure room at the Capitol, an F.B.I. agent told Mr. Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an “agent of influence” — someone the Russian government might be able to use to steer Washington policy-making, former officials said.
Mr. Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the meeting had focused on his contact with one member of the Russian Foreign Ministry, whom he recalled meeting on a trip to Moscow. “They were telling me he had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. He recalled the F.B.I. agent saying that Moscow “looked at me as someone who could be influenced.”
Law enforcement officials did not think that Mr. Rohrabacher was actively working with Russian intelligence, officials said, rather that he was being targeted as an unwitting player in a Russian effort to gain access in Washington, according to one former American official. The official said there was no evidence that Mr. Rohrabacher was ever paid by the Russians.
Also at the meeting were Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, and according to one former official, Representative C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Maryland. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger were the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee. In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Ruppersberger said that he recalled a meeting with Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rohrabacher, but did not remember that an F.B.I. agent was present. “Mike and I reminded Dana that Russia is our adversary,” he said.