Ryan: More audio leaks 'cause for concern'

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP leaders launch internal review into leak Opinion | Michael Steele: Gianforte better put his ‘big boy’ pants on Washington needs high-level science and technology expertise – now! MORE (R-Wis.) says the possibility that more secret recordings could be leaked is a “cause for concern” after a leak emerged from a 2016 House GOP leadership meeting. 

Ryan on Friday refused to speculate who might be the culprit, but he agreed that former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a former leadership staffer who attended that meeting, was the name on everyone’s lips in Washington.

As a staffer for Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersGOP leaders launch internal review into leak Ryan: More audio leaks 'cause for concern' Female lawmakers flee House for higher office, retirement MORE (R-Wash.), McMullin had been present for many leadership meetings in Ryan’s office. Last August, the former CIA officer shocked Capitol Hill by announcing an independent bid for the White House. 

“I’m not going to speculate,” Ryan told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, “but that’s the name most people — you hear about.”

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McMullin, who ran for president specifically to provide a conservative alternative to Trump, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to The Washington Post, which obtained the audio, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told his leadership colleagues last June that there are two U.S. politicians on Russia’s payroll: President Trump and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a vocal and unabashed defender of Russia.

Ryan quickly jumped in to stop McCarthy from going further, warning the small group of GOP leaders and senior staffers not to leak the discussion.   

“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan said, according to the Post.

Both McCarthy and Ryan this week downplayed McCarthy’s Russia comments as a joke and a bad attempt at humor. 

But the leak of the audio poured more fuel on the fire as Trump and the White House struggled to contain a growing scandal over whether his campaign had colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

On Thursday, one day after the audio leak, McCarthy found himself sitting next to Trump at a White House meeting on innovation. According to GOP sources, Trump cracked a joke about McCarthy’s Russia quip and the room erupted in laughter. 

In 2012, the FBI warned Rohrabacher during a classified briefing on Capitol Hill that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an “agent of influence,” The New York Times reported Friday.

Ryan's leadership team has good reason to suspect McMullin leaked the audio. An outspoken Trump critic, McMullin even alluded to the 2016 meeting and McCarthy's Russia-Trump statement in a New York Times op-ed published in February.

"Suspect public comments like these led one senior Republican leader to dolefully inform his peers that he thought Mr. Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll, suggesting that Mr. Trump had been compromised by Russian intelligence," McMullin wrote. 

"Other leaders were surprised by their colleague’s frank assessment, but did not dispute it."

Updated at 10:30 a.m.