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Congressman recounts inebriated arm-wrestling match with Putin

If you’re like most Americans, you've probably at one point lost a drunken arm-wrestling match to a notoriously brusque future world leader to settle an argument over geopolitical power shifts following a few drinks at an Irish pub after a touch football game.


California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, in fact, says he’s done just that.

The congressman told Kitty Felde of local public radio station KPCC-FM that, in the early 1990s, he got smoked by young Vladimir Putin, then a local official in St. Petersburg, in a booze-fueled Feat of Strength.

The story goes like this: Seeking refreshment after a game of touch football (which featured a lineup including Scooter Libby, the future chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstruction of justice), Rohrabacher and some visiting Russian politicians -- including the relatively unknown Putin – stopped by a DC watering hole, the Irish Times Pub.

After throwing back a few, the Americans and the Russians exchanged words about “who won the Cold War, etc.”

“And so,” Rohrabacher went on to explain, “we decided to settle it like men do when they’ve had too much to drink in the pub.”

(Read: the two challenged each other to an arm-wrestling match.)

Rohrabacher lost.

Here’s the congressman, in his own words, explaining the incident to KPCC-FM.


Rohrabacher: “A group of young political leaders came into my office, and they wanted to meet me because I’d been Reagan’s speechwriter. Well, I talked to them and I asked them – by the way I’m spending the weekend here ... want to play some American football with me and my buddies? So three of them said yeah, sure!”

Q: Including Putin?

Rohrabacher : Well, come to find out later it was Putin. I didn’t know who he was then. He was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. That’s all we knew. But he did have a huge bodyguard, so that did sorta give us a little hint that maybe he’s more important than just St. Petersburg. So we went out and we played touch football. And, uh, Scooter Libby was one of the players, and a bunch of my right-wing friends were there. And so we all went over to this pub afterwards, the Irish Times pub.”

Q: You skipped ahead! Who won the game?

Rohrabacher : Well, it wasn’t us versus them. They played on both teams, we just picked up sides. But we all ended up going to the Irish Times Pub afterwards. We were having a little bit too much to drink, I guess. But anyway, we started arguing about who won the Cold War, etc. And so we decided to settle it like men do when they’ve had too much to drink in the pub. And so we got down to these arm wrestling matches. And I ended up being paired up off with Putin. And he’s a little guy, and, but boy I tell ya, he put me down in a millisecond. He is tough. He’s just… His muscles are just unbelievable.

And so then his bodyguard gets up with this buddy of mine. And says oh, I’ll take him. And my friend put his bodyguard down. So it was good. And at that moment, well.. he’s a tough guy, and he’s supposed to be a tough guy. That’s what the Russian people want. But that’s no reason we shouldn’t try to work with him.”