House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy suggested Trump was on Putin's payroll

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - A leading Republican in the U.S. Congress in June 2016 made a quip during a private meeting of fellow lawmakers that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be making payments to Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the assertion, the newspaper reported, saying the conversation was recorded last June, during the primary election season when Trump was seeking to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee.

According to the Washington Post report, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, interrupted McCarthy and urged Republicans present to keep McCarthy's remarks secret.

RELATED: Senate Judiciary subcommittee hears testimony on Russian meddling in the 2016 election

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Senate Judiciary subcommittee hears testimony on Russian meddling in the 2016 election
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) holds up a copy of 'The Kremlin Playbook' as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) listens at a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates leaves a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) at the conclusion of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing about Russian intereference in the 2016 election in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates leave a hearing of the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates shake hands after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, listens during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates is expected to be questioned about how blunt a warning she gave the incoming administration that Lieutenant General Flynn had provided a misleading account of a telephone conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during Trump's transition to the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates are sworn in before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - MAY 8: (From L to R) Senator John Cornyn, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - MAY 8: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questions former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, makes an opening statement during a hearing with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates is expected to be questioned about how blunt a warning she gave the incoming administration that Lieutenant General Flynn had provided a misleading account of a telephone conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during Trump's transition to the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism ranking member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivers opening remarks during a hearing about Russian interference in the 2016 election in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates testified that she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates said she had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates arrive to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
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The newspaper report quoted McCarthy saying, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."

McCarthy fired back at the report on Twitter on Wednesday, saying, "This was an attempt at humor gone wrong."

A spokesman for Ryan said the remarks were meant as humor and had been taken out of context.

"This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said.

SEE ALSO: Trump reportedly willing to try engagement on North Korea under right conditions, says South Korea

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher on Wednesday told reporters that McCarthy's quip was a joke. "The trouble is, when you ever try to be funny, it is really taken seriously by a third party, and that's what's happened here," he said.

Reuters does not have a copy of the tape and could not confirm authenticity or gauge whether McCarthy was joking.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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