Rep. Dana Rohrabacher laughed when a reporter from The Hill newspaper asked Friday whether he is getting paid by Russia.
“Am I getting money from Russia? No,” the Huntington Beach Republican said.
The question stemmed from a Washington Post story this week that disclosed an audio recording from last year in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said he thought Rohrabacher and then-candidate Donald Trump were being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A transcript of the tape notes McCarthy and others in the room were laughing, and McCarthy’s staff has said it was meant as a joke and it landed poorly.
“That was a joke that didn’t make it,” Rohrabacher told The Hill, adding that he and McCarthy are friends.
For decades, Rohrabacher’s willingness to work with Russia has made him a bit of an outlier within the Republican Party, and people have questioned his stance repeatedly.
Rohrabacher told The Hill that McCarthy has apologized for the joke and for the attention it has caused. Rohrabacher’s Orange County district is a target for Democrats in the midterms.
And Rohrabacher’s 2018 opponents have jumped on the congressman’s longstanding friendliness toward Russia as a campaign issue, with one, Democrat Harley Rouda, even sending a letter asking the FBI to investigate.
The New York Times reported Friday that the FBI warned Rohrabacher a few years ago that Russian spies were trying to recruit him.
Rohrabacher told the New York Times that he appreciated the warning but didn’t need it.
“Any time you meet a Russian member of their Foreign Ministry or the Russian government, you assume those people have something to do with Russian intelligence,” he said.