Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said in a private session last year President Donald Trump, then a candidate, could be receiving payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, May 17, 2017. In this photo, McCarthy and his wife Judy (2nd L) walk out of the caucus room in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2015. Getty Images

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was under fire Wednesday after a Washington Post report revealed one of his controversial comments from a private Capitol Hill conversation during the 2016 campaign, which indicated Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying President Donald Trump.

McCarthy told reporters while leaving the House floor Wednesday, immediately after the publication of the comments that it was a "bad attempt at joke."

"That's all there is to it," McCarthy added. "No one believes it to be true."

The Post reported McCarthy said, during a 2016 conversation with fellow Republican leaders: "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." The comment is supposedly according to a recording of the June 2016 exchange.

The report also said the recording has Speaker Paul Ryan’s comments asking his colleagues to not share the remarks.

"No leaks, all right? This is how we know we're a real family here," Ryan reportedly said.

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a California Republican who is a staunch defender of Putin and he told reporters Wednesday McCarthy’s remark 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," Rohrabacher said.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, also said the comments were meant to be a joke. "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," Buck said.

He added: "What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity."

When reporters asked McCarthy why he would joke about something so controversial, he said: "You don't have a sense of humor anymore? People aren't supposed to be able to laugh?” "There's a reason why I'm not a comedian,” he added.

The 2016 conversation that has been cited in the Washington Report came shortly after both Ryan and McCarthy had a discussion with the Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman regarding alleged Russian attempts to diminish democratic institutions in Eastern Europe. This was also a day after it was widely reported Russian hackers had been successful in hacking the Democratic National Congress (DNC).

At the time, Ryan had still not endorsed Trump but McCarthy had already decided to become a Trump delegate to the Republican National Committee (RNC) and officially support Trump’s campaign.

Some Democrats raised their concerns about McCarthy’s statement citing the tensions that have been going on regarding the investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

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California Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the House intelligence committee, said the remark could raise questions whether McCarthy has additional information on the “relationship the president had with President Putin.”

“If it was said they had their own concerns and so far they have done nothing to address concerns about the president’s ties to Russia,” Swalwell told reporters. “So I just want to know, were these concerns based on separate information that the majority leader had or had been told?”

Trump’s alleged ties to Russia have been a subject of controversy and concern since the president took office. Trump was also criticized and several other security concerns were raised by his sudden dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate the Russian attempts to meddle with the 2016 election.