“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a secret June 15, 2016 conversation on Capitol Hill about then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Orange County Republican long known for his ardent defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his knee-jerk antipathy toward LGBT people. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) cut McCarthy off and told those present to keep the remarks secret, according to a recording published by the Washington Post in May 2017.
No one ever accused McCarthy, the possible next Speaker, of being prescient. But Rohrabacher’s name surfaced after the FBI arrested 29-year-old Maria Butina for being a Kremlin spy. The affidavit, released July 16, accuses Butina of using the National Rifle Association as a conduit to set up a back channel between Russian operatives and American congressional leaders and alludes to a meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation, now believed to be Rohrabacher and New York Democrat Gregory Meeks.
“I know I had dinner with [Butina] along with another member, along with a visiting delegation to Russia,” Rohrabacher told Politico. “Is that something we should be worried about?”
Rohrabacher dismisses the indictment as “ridiculous,” linked to the “deep state.” But in 2012, Rohrabacher— dubbed “Putin’s favorite congressman”—was warned by FBI and senior members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russian spies were trying to recruit him. Now he’s linked to others being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort; Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya; and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Democrat Harley Rouda, challenging Rohrabacher in California’s 48th District, called the news “deeply disturbing,” adding: “My campaign is not up for sale to the NRA,” noting Rohrabacher’s association with the NRA.
The news was also revelatory for LGBT politicos who have continuously battled with the unrepentant 30-year incumbent. Recently, during a lobbying conference with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), in Washington, the organization pressed Rohrabacher on whether he would endorse H.R. 1447, which would prevent housing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone (if) they don’t agree with their lifestyle,” Rohrabacher replied, costing him NAR’s support.
“What Dana Rohrabacher fails to understand,” Rouda said in response, “is discrimination is discrimination. It shows how backward his thinking is.”
That thinking was also exposed in the recent This is America feature for Showtime by English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Rohrabacher meets with Cohen, disguised as Col. Erran Morad, a former Israeli commando, who proposes a “kinderguardian” program that would guard against school shootings by arming children aged three to 16 with deadly weapons.
“Maybe having many young people trained and understand how to defend themselves and their school might actually make us safer here,” Rohrabacher says.
Rohrabacher was not amused. “At no time did I endorse training toddlers in handling guns. Nor was the idea even presented to me directly. If it had been, I would have rejected it,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
“In just the last few days, Dana Rohrabacher has advocated for arming toddlers with guns and been connected to a Russian spy living in the United States,” Samuel Garrett-Pate, communications director for Equality California, wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Blade. “A couple months ago, he said homeowners should be able to refuse to sell or rent their houses to LGBTQ people. He has a long anti-LGBTQ record and has spent his 30 years in Congress taking taxpayer-funded trips to Moscow instead of getting results for his district. Orange County voters deserve better.”
Garrett-Pate touted Rouda’s performance in the state’s hotly contested June primary election, as well as his success in raising money and winning over voters in the district.
Rouda and three other Democrats taking on vulnerable anti-LGBT Republican incumbents on the Democratic National Campaign Committee’s target list in Southern California are out-performing their GOP rivals in fundraising, according to Politico. In the most recent numbers, Rouda beat Rohrabacher, $1.4 million to $294,000 (The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets indicates Rouda has raised $2,686,620 overall to Rohrabacher’s $1,746,614.)
In the must-win 25th District where bisexual Democrat Katie Hill is taking on Rep. Steve Knight, just as anti-LGBT as his infamous father Pete Knight (author of anti-gay marriage Prop 22), Hill brought in $1.3 million—more than triple the $442,000 secured by Knight; in the 39th, Democrat Gil Cisneros outraised popular Young Kim by about $3 million to $677,000 in the contest for retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s seat; and in the 49th District for outgoing anti-LGBT Rep. Darrell Issa’s seat, Democrat Mike Levin soared with $1 million to Republican Diane Harkey’s $389,000.
“California Democrats are seizing on the unprecedented grassroots support we’re seeing across the state to run competitive, well-funded campaigns,” DCCC spokesperson Drew Godinich told Politico in response to the numbers.
Godinich’s NRCC counterpart, Jack Pandol replied: “The more money that flows from Nancy Pelosi and wealthy Bay Area liberals to these Democratic candidates, the more we understand where their true loyalties lie.”
After the recent revelations about Russian interference in the 2016 elections and other spy infiltration efforts, asking where Rohrabacher’s true loyalties lie may be a new top priority for voters in California’s 48th District.