"It's a bad attempt at a joke; that's all there is to it," McCarthy told reporters on Thursday, in remarks reported by The New York Times. "No one believes it to be true from any stretch of the fact."
McCarthy's defense came after The Washington Post reported that the Republican leader from California told several of his colleagues in June of 2016 that he thought Putin paid Trump. "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy said to laughs in a recording obtained by the Post. He was referring to California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who is known as a fierce Russia defender in Congress.
The recording includes an interjection from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who stopped the conversation and told his colleagues not to speak of it.
"No leaks," Ryan said, according to the Post. "This is how we know we're a real family here."
Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesperson, told The Times that the conversation was "clearly an attempt at humor."
"No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians," he said.