Lindsey Graham tricked by Russians in prank phone call
Senator Lindsey Graham has been tricked into prank phone calls by Russian pranksters posing as Turkey’s minister of defence, Hulusi Akar.
The Republican senator, who has become a key ally of Donald Trump’s, can be heard in the August recordings discussing his sympathy for the Turkish government’s opposition to Kurds in the region — a statement that appears to contradict his recent stance towards fighters from that ethnic group in northern Syria.
“Your YPG Kurdish problem is a big problem,” Mr Graham said on the call, referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units that have fought in the past four years against Isis as a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The recording was provided to Politico. GQ Magazine had previously reported on the calls, too.
In recent days, after Mr Trump’s decision to pull American troops from northern Syria — endangering those very same Kurds — Mr Graham has railed against the decision, citing the dangers now posed to the SDF and saying it is “wrong to abandon the Kurds, who have been strong allies against” Isis.
The comedians who tricked Mr Graham are Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, two pranksters believed to have connections to Russia’s intelligence services and who go by the names “Lexus and Vovan”.
The Republican senator is not their first target – they previously made news for pranking congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is helping lead the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.
“We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” said Kevin Bishop, a spokesperson for Mr Graham, while confirming the call’s authenticity to Politico. “They got him.”
During the phone call, Mr Graham also said that Mr Trump had a personal interest in a “Turkish bank case”, which appears to refer to a US prosecution involving Reza Zarrab, an Iranian Turkish gold trader and client of Rudy Giuliani’s, the president’s personal lawyer. It has been reported by CNN that Mr Giuliani lobbied Mr Trump and then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson in 2017 to drop the case.
Mr Graham also discussed the potential to get Turkey back into the F-35 programme, and asked the faux defence minister not to use Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system that had been delivered to Turkey in spite of opposition from the US and Nato.