MEMBERS ONLY: What Did Republicans Know About Trump-Russia, And When Did They Know It?

by Bob Cesca

By now you’ve likely heard about the bombshell article from The Washington Post revealing that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy blabbed out loud that “Putin pays Trump.” He added, “Swear to God.”

Naturally, in the aftermath of the story, there’s much debate about whether McCarthy was joking. And maybe he was. But the remark seemed too specific — too knowing to be completely fabricated by McCarthy. At the very least, it was a joke based on truth. Of course, you’ll never convince Trumpers that is was anything but a joke — Trumpers are widely known for having notoriously acute senses of humor, right?

What isn’t mentioned in these online debates is the context for McCarthy’s joke. So, let’s fill in some deails, shall we? We’ll begin with McCarthy himself who has a record of accidentally blurting secret things in public. A while back when he was the frontrunner for the Speaker of the House gig, you might recall how McCarthy disqualified himself from the post when he confessed on television that the entire point of the Benghazi hearings in Congress were to drag down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

Oops.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note the timeline of events here. According to The Washington Post, the following sequence of events occurred in this order:

June 14 – We learned the Russians hacked the DNC.June 15 – The McCarthy conversation about “Putin pays Trump.”July 19 – Trump is nominated at convention July 25 – We learned for the first time that Russia hacked the DNC specifically to help Trump.

Simply put: while there was some scuttlebutt about Trump having a bizarre man-crush on Putin, and while it was clear the Russians were attacking the DNC, we didn’t know anything publicly about Russia’s intentions to explicitly help Trump’s campaign until around July 25 at the earliest. Reporting about collusion, by the way, didn’t come along until much later in the year.

Therefore, McCarthy was discussing a financial relationship that no one else was discussing publicly on and around June 15 — again, more than a month before we were publicly talking about Russia helping Trump.

This other detail might lend a hand in answering that question. Here’s the line exactly as it was reported in The Post:

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

If alarm bells just went off in your head, you’re not alone. Not only were there discussions about Russia taking place that day amount House leadership, Groysman specifically warned the Republicans about what Putin was working on, and — wow! — it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? To be perfectly clear: Groysman witnessed firsthand how the Kremlin was financing populist candidate to undermine democracies, and he told Paul Ryan all about it. And, later, McCarthy seemed to jump from the plot described by Groysman to “Putin pays Trump.”

Still think it was a joke?

Oh, one last thing. When contacted for comment, Ryan’s office denied the conversation ever took place… until The Post told a Ryan spokesman that they have a recording of everything.

So, then, what did the House GOP leadership know and when did they know it?

At some point, we need to have a national conversation about the differences between flacking for your party and aiding and abetting high crimes and treason for the sake of politics. Because the latter is exactly what’s happening here, and if the House Republicans had knowledge of Trump/Russia collusion at any point in time, much less prior to it being made public last year, they have a patriotic responsibility to divulge whatever they know.

But don’t hold your breath. The best we can hope for are more clandestine recordings like the McCarthy tape.

One major takeaway from the McCarthy story is, perhaps, that Putin paid Trump to run for president. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for Putin to have financed Trump’s campaign via any number of go-betweens including oligarchs or Paul Manafort or Mike Flynn or Jared Kushner or Jeff Sessions or Carter Page — all of whom had ongoing meetings with Kislyak throughout 2016. Did Trump really spend his own money on his campaign or was it financed by Putin?

Elsewhere, there are rumors being reported by Louise Mensch and others suggesting there’s a racketeering case brewing against the Republican Party for possibly engaging in shady deals with the Russians. If true, this story would signify the end of the GOP as we know it.

While we’re here, the issue of “tapes” arose again this week. It turns out that Vladimir Putin has a transcript of the meeting between Trump, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Now, usually but not always, the existence of a “transcript” suggests the existence of a recording, either video or audio. This leads us to wonder whether Trump is recording his meetings and, via staffers, uploading the audio to Moscow — or, what if Putin clandestinely recorded the meeting. Perhaps either Lavrov or Kislyak or both recorded the meeting themselves.

Ultimately, we’ll know one way or another when Robert Mueller reports his findings to acting-Attorney General Rosenstein (Sessions recused himself). That’s when we’ll know whether McCarthy was joking or not.