Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has been one of Donald Trump’s strongest backers in Congress since the earliest days of the Presidential campaign. Long before that, however, he he was one of Vladimir Putin’s staunchest supporters. This despite the fact that the FBI warned him in 2012 that he was being targeted by Russian spies who wanted to use him as an unwitting accomplice.
After more than a quarter-century in office, few were familiar with the Representative or his unremarkable career until tape leaked this week of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) telling members of the Republican caucus “there’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
Even if the remark was intended as a joke as McCarthy insists, there is certainly truth to it. Last year, Politico ran a profile on Rohrabacher, titled “Putin’s favorite Congressman,” for his long-standing support of the Russian regime and the strongman at the top. Rohrabacher’s love affair with the Russian dictator has manifested in a variety of ways, from minimizing their human rights violations to opposing economic sanctions to bragging that he’d once gotten drunk and lost an arm-wrestling match with Putin himself.
Nevertheless, when FBI agents brought Rohrabacher into a secure room five years ago and told him that a Russian official he had befriended was a spy trying to use him as a pawn to peddle Russian influence in the U.S. government, the Congressman was unmoved.
“They were telling me he had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence,” Rohrabacher told the New York Times yesterday. He remembered being told that Moscow “looked at me as someone who could be influenced.”
The FBI says there is no evidence that Rohrabacher has been literally paid by the Russian government. Rather, he would have been manipulated into doing their bidding unknowingly.
The Congressman doesn’t see how that is possible. “I can’t imagine someone in a position of power in the United States government not fully appreciating the fact that whoever he’s dealing with who’s a foreigner that he doesn’t know is trying to influence him,” Rohrabacher said.
His assertion seems a bit more ridiculous after the President of the United States casually shared top secret Israeli intelligence with the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office last week.
As for accusations that Russia meddled in the presidential election last year, Rohrabacher expressed less disbelief than apathy, saying “Did they try to influence our election? We have tried to influence their elections, and everybody’s elections.”
After 28 years in office, Rohrabacher is expected to face the fight of his political life next year. Though he easily beat back underfunded opposition in 2016, Hillary Clinton carried his district, and Democrats and independent pundits alike see him as one of Congress’ most likely losers in 2018.
Russia’s loss would be America’s gain. Until then, expect Rohrabacher and Trump to continue doing Putin’s bidding. Even if they aren’t aware they’re doing it.