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Cliff Owen / AP

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republican colleagues last year, in remarks caught on a recording and obtained by The Washington Post: "There's two people I think Putin pays: [Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump."

Rohrabacher, a California Republican, is perhaps Putin's most outspoken defender on Capitol Hill.

What happened next: Some lawmakers laughed, McCarthy added "Swear to God," and House Speaker Paul Ryan cut the conversation short and told the people in the room, "No leaks, alright? This is how we know we're a real family here."

McCarthy responds: McCarthy told an MSNBC producer Wednesday he had been making "a bad attempt at a joke."

Who else was in the room: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Republican conference chairman), Steve Scalise (majority whip), Patrick McHenry (the deputy whip), and others.

Why the accusation: Both Ryan and McCarthy had just left a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who detailed the Kremlin strategy of undermining European democracy by financing populist politicians.

The caveat, from The Washington Post: "It is difficult to tell from the recording the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally."

Read the transcript below:

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

1 hour ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.