In 2012, the FBI warned Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that Russian spies were targeting him for recruitment, the New York Times reported on Friday.
According to the report, there’s no evidence Rohrabacher was actively working with or ever paid by Russian intelligence. It was more likely, a former official said, that he was targeted as an unwitting accomplice in a Russian attempt to gain political access.
The news comes days after a leaked recording of a 2016 conversation between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other GOP leaders.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, as reported by The Washington Post. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added after a few lawmakers laughed.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) immediately urged the others to keep the comments secret.
“No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here,” Ryan said. “What’s said in the family stays in the family.”
McCarthy, when the comments became public, defended them as a joke that didn’t land correctly.
The remarks, however, show that even as a quip, Republican leaders were aware of possible connections between Trump and Russia six months before election day, before many of the revelations about meetings between Trump’s campaign associates and Russian officials were public, and before WikiLeaks began to published the hacked DNC emails.
And as for Rohrabacher, he has for years been considered to be one of Putin’s biggest defenders on Capitol Hill. Before Trump’s victory in November, Rohrabacher was an outlier in Washington for his pro-Russia stance, often arguing that Russia was being unfairly demonized by the American public.
“We’ve been treating Russia as if it’s still a hostile dictatorship that wants to undermine democracy every place they can in the world and that’s just not the case anymore,” he told the LA Times in March 2017.
Rohrabacher, like Trump, has been dismissive of the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked the U.S. election in order to undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances and boost Trump’s.
“Did they try to influence our election? We have tried to influence their elections, and everybody’s elections,” Rohrabacher said to the LA Times. “The American people are being fed information that would lead them to believe that we need to be in a war-like stance when it comes to Russia.”
After Trump’s election, Rohrabacher’s name was briefly floated as a dark-horse candidate for Secretary of State.
Rohrabacher has also pushed pro-Russia policies on Capitol Hill. In November 2016, Politico dubbed him “Putin’s favorite congressman,” laying out Rohrabacher’s promotion of one of Putin’s priorities from within the auspices of Capitol Hill.
That project had to do with taking Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s name off a global anti-corruption law. Magnitsky was a whistle-blowing attorney who alleged that officials in Putin’s government stole $230 million; he died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
In response, the United States passed the Magnitsky Act, banning officials alleged to be involved in his murder from visiting the United States and from using U.S. banks — a move which enraged Putin, and prompted him to outlaw in retaliation all adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents.
According to multiple outlets, Rohrabacher has repeatedly met and discussed the law with Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist and alleged former Soviet spy that the Senate Judiciary Committee has accused of working as an “unregistered agent for Russian interests.”
When an expansion of the Magnitsky Act came up before Congress, Rorhrabacher proposed striking Magnitsky’s name.
“I felt listening to him like I was watching RT, Russian Television,” Gerald Connolly (D-VA) said about Rohrabacher’s comments in the markup hearing.