Graham was duped by a prank phone call over the summer, and spent several minutes discussing U.S. foreign policy with someone he thought was Turkey's minister of defense, Politico reported Thursday. Unfortunately for Graham, it wasn't a Turkish official on the other line — it was two Russian pranksters.
Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who Politico reports are suspected to have ties to the Kremlin's intelligence operations and have previously prank called British officials, called Graham in August. They talked about Turkey's military activity against the Kurds in northern Syria, Russia's anti-aircraft weapon system, and a fraught case involving alleged Iranian money laundering, which is being investigated by the Justice Department.
"Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister," Graham said on the call. "I want to make this a win-win, if we can." As Politico notes, the information Graham disclosed on the call was "relatively harmless," but clearly raises concerns about how easily bad actors can reach lawmakers. Graham in particular is a close ally of President Trump's, a fellow prank call victim. He has pushed more recently against Trump's military pullback in Syria. On the call, Graham, suggested the Kurds were a "threat" to Turkey, though he has in recent days said it was "wrong" for the U.S. to "abandon the Kurds," who are U.S. allies.
A spokesperson for Graham confirmed the Russian pranksters were able to get the senator on the line, even getting through for a second call a few days later. "We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks," said Graham's spokesman. "They got him."
The U.K. is blaming Russia for a prank phone call to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with Johnson's deputy, Alan Duncan, telling Bloomberg News: "If this was an attempt to ridicule us, it has totally backfired." Russian pranksters have previously placed hoax calls to U.S. politicians by posing as world leaders; earlier this year, radio comedians "Vovan" and "Lexus" pretended to be the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament in order to offer Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) nude photos of President Trump, and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was tricked into telling the pranksters she was "closely watching" Russia's interference in the elections of Binomo, a made-up country.
Johnson apparently realized the call was a hoax and ended the conversation, earning the respect of prankster Alexei Stolyarov who claimed it was "probably the first time the person we talked to ... was not a fool."
The U.K. was not amused, suggesting that the Kremlin supported the call in an attempt to discredit reports that Russia poisoned former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. "These childish actions show the lack of seriousness of the caller and those behind him," said the Foreign Office. Jeva Lange