COLUMBIA, S.C. — A pair of Russians pretending to be the defense minister of Turkey tricked Sen. Lindsey Graham into two calls where he discussed President Donald Trump and U.S. policy on Turkey, according to reports released Thursday.
The call was actually from Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who made a name for themselves making prank calls to high-profile Americans and Europeans, according to Politico, which shared recordings of the calls. The pair go by nicknames Lexus and Vovan, and some people suspect they could have ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence services, Politico reports.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop confirmed the senator and his staff fell for the hoax over the summer, believing Graham was actually speaking with Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defense minister, according to CNN.
“We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” Bishop said in a statement to CNN and other outlets. “They got him.”
The Russian duo has also shared prank calls to Elton John, then-British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is now the prime minister, and other high profile Americans and Europeans, The Guardian reports.
The prank callers got Graham talking about United States policy toward Turkey and Kurdish fighters in Syria, according to GQ. The call came as Turkey received a shipment of missiles from Russia, according to reports.
After the first call, Graham said he would call the minister back. According to GQ, one of the Russians bought a Turkish cell phone for the senator to call him back.
“So as far as I understand, President Trump has entrusted you with this negotiations,” the pretend defense minister said in the first call.
“Yeah, sort of,” Graham responded, according to GQ. “Let me tell you what he told me: ‘I don’t wanna impose sanctions on our ally Turkey.’”
In the second call, Graham said, “I met with the president, I spent the weekend with him. We played golf yesterday and had dinner over the weekend, and we talked about our friends in Turkey, and I told him my desire was to change the conversation and to get you back in the F-35 program and sign a free trade agreement and move it in a new direction, and that’s what he would like to do,” according to GQ and Politico.
Graham also talked about Kurdish fighters in the calls with who he thought was Akar. “Your YPG Kurdish problem is a big problem,” Graham said in the recordings, referring to the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, Politico reported.
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria have long been U.S. allies in the wars there.
“I told President Trump that Obama made a huge mistake in relying on the YPG Kurds,” Graham said in the recording shared by Politico. “Everything I worried about has come true, and now we have to make sure Turkey is protected from this threat in Syria. I’m sympathetic to the YPG problem, and so is the president, quite frankly.”
The comments on the Kurdish militia became more important after Turkey invaded Syria this week, which is held by the Kurds, according to GQ. Graham and others in Congress condemned Trump’s move to allow Turkey to invade Syria.
“It is never wise to abandon an ally who has sacrificed on your behalf. It is never wise to repeat the mistakes of your predecessor. It is never wise to outsource American national security to Turkey or any other nation,” Graham said in a recent tweet.
“I expect the American president to do what’s in our national security interests. It’s never in our national security interests to abandon an ally who has helped us fight ISIS. It is never in our national security interests to create conditions for the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham said in an interview on Fox, McClatchy news group reports.