Topeka U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins' office said Thursday that she was not present during a meeting of the House Republican Conference last summer when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin could be making payments to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
An account of that conversation during a June 15, 2016, meeting of the House Republican Conference was reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.
Jenkins, a Topeka Republican whose district includes Lawrence, was vice chair of the House Republican Caucus at the time, so it would be expected for her to attend such a meeting. But her communications director Michael Byerly said in an email Thursday that she was not present and that the nature of the conversation had been misconstrued.
"The Congresswoman was not present at the meeting during this discussion," he said. "The Majority Leader has stated on his twitter that this was an attempt at humor gone wrong."
According to the Post story, McCarthy and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had met separately earlier that day with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman who had told them that the Russian government employed a tactic of funding populist candidates in Eastern Europe to undermine democratic institutions.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," the Post quoted McCarthy as saying, referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, another California Republican.
The Post story noted that it wasn't clear from an audio tape of the conversation whether McCarthy was serious.
Wednesday evening, after the Post story was published, McCarthy posted on Twitter: "This was an attempt at humor gone wrong. No surprise @WashingtonPost tried to contort this into breaking news."
The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are all now conducting separate investigations into Russian government meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
Jenkins stepped down from her position as vice chair of the GOP conference shortly after winning re-election to her fifth term in the 2016 general election. She has since said she will not seek a sixth term in 2018.