Last March, a man purporting to be Andriy Parubiy, the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, reached Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on the phone. The caller offered Schiff recordings of two minor Russian celebrities talking about compromising material they'd gathered about Donald Trump during a 2013 trip to Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's promise that this "kompromat" would never emerge if Trump canceled all Russian sanctions.
"And what's the nature of the kompromat?" Schiff asked soberly. "Well, there were pictures of naked Trump," the caller replied. Schiff said he'd "be in touch with the FBI about this," and "I think it probably would be best to provide these materials both to our committee and to the FBI." The caller was actually Vladimir Kuznetsov, a Russian prankster who, along with partner Alexey Stolyarov, are known as Vovan and Lexus, The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe reports. The two Russians' previous victims include Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Elton John.
"Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus," a Schiff spokesman told The Atlantic. "Obviously, it was bogus — which became even more evident during the call — but ... we have to chase any number of leads, many of which turn out to be duds," the spokesman told Britain's Daily Mail, which reported Tuesday that Schiff staffers followed up twice with Vovan and Lexus.
Whether Schiff was actually fooled wasn't the point, Ioffe notes. "Kuznetsov and Stolyarov immediately sent the recording to Kremlin-friendly media, which gleefully made hay of it: another dumb American, ready to believe the most-ludicrous stories about a Russia run by sneaky, evil spies." You can read more about Vovan and Lexus, and the many ways Putin is getting what he wants, at The Atlantic. Peter Weber