Republican leadership in the House have launched an internal review to find out who recorded audio of a private meeting between four GOP leaders — Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisc.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) — and a handful of top aides. The recording of the June 2016 meeting was subsequently leaked to The Washington Post.
Among comments made during the meeting that’s been an uncomfortable situation for Republicans are discussions of Russia and the Ukraine.
“Russia is trying to turn Ukraine against itself,” Ryan told the group.
“Yes,” McMorris Rodgers agreed, “and that’s … it’s sophisticated and it’s, uh—”
“Maniacal,” Ryan chimed in.
As well as a “bad attempt at a” joke about then-candidate Donald Trump from McCarthy,
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” Mr. McCarthy said. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, is known as Mr. Putin’s most vigorous defender in Congress.
A spokesman for Ryan denied the report that the exchange had happened until made aware that The Post had a recording.
The person leadership is apparently most suspicious of is former CIA officer and then-policy aide to McMorris Rodgers, Evan McMullin. In the months after the meeting, McMullin launched an independent bid for president. Since the election he has been an outspoken, reflexive anti-Trump figure, and has said he’s considering running for Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch or Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s seats. The McMullin camp has reiterated the fact that there is no proof that McMullin was the one who recorded or leaked the audio.
Regardless, whether McMullin made the recording or not, GOP leadership reportedly consider him a likely suspect.
No matter who made the recording, the culprit would face no criminal charges as D.C.’s wiretapping laws require only one party’s consent. Political and social punishment might have to be considered good enough.
“When someone deliberately and maliciously records someone to undermine them out of context, then I think that person should be ostracized and socially rejected,” Franks said.
“There should be a political price and a social price to pay. People should have the right to speak off-hand and joke among their friends without worrying that they are going to bring down the Western world.”
The other issue at hand is to find out whether the leaker sent the audio to a foreign agent or government as the transcript had a Kiev, Ukraine dateline — Ryan had just met with Ukrainian officials before the recorded meeting. However, the scenario of the Ukrainians planting a recording device in Ryan’s office has been deemed unlikely as Capitol offices are regularly swept for such things.