Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unwittingly took two separate phone calls from Russian pranksters with suspected links to the country’s intelligence services, believing he was speaking with Hulusi Akar, the defense minister of Turkey, Politico reports. “We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, told Politico. “They got him.” The pranksters, Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who go by “Lexus and Vovan,” are notorious for getting top government officials on the phone. The pranksters’ ability to talk at length with the senator—a White House ally who advises the president on national security issues—raises questions about national security breaches.
During the conversation, Graham called the Kurds a “threat” to Turkey and expressed sympathy for Turkey’s “Kurdish problem.” Those private statements contradict public ones made by Graham in recent days. Earlier this week, the senator criticized President Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria, essentially abandoning Kurdish allies against an imminent attack from Turkey, saying it was “wrong to abandon the Kurds, who have been strong allies against (ISIS).” On the prank call, Graham said he “told President Trump that Obama made a huge mistake in relying on the YPG Kurds... 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.”