Ranking Democratic House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) was tricked last year by Russian pranksters into investigating non-existent nude photos of Trump that Schiff thought were in the possession of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to an exclusive report from The Daily Mail.
Russian comedians Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, known respectively as “Vovan” and “Lexus,” were initially able to reach Schiff by phone while pretending to represent Andriy Parubiy, the chairman of Ukraine’s parliament. Vovan, who played the role of Parubiy during the call, wove a fantastical tale to Schiff about Russian celebrities conspiring to obtain “kompromat” (blackmail material) on Trump and then hand it over to the Kremlin.
As Vovan told it, the dastardly plot involved Russian model Olga Buzova having an affair with Trump after the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow (Trump was the owner of the pageant at that time). Buzova then turned over photos proving her encounter with Trump to Putin’s goddaughter Ksenia Sobchak, who then gave the kompromat to her godfather.
The Russian comedic pair recorded their phone call with the congressman and subsequently released portions of it to the Internet to mock Schiff. The authenticity of the recording has been confirmed by one of Schiff’s spokespeople, who has insisted to the press that the congressman knew it was a prank all along. As The Atlantic reported:
A spokesman for Schiff said, “Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the [House Intel] committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus.”
However, this explanation is belied by the existence of emails obtained by The Daily Mail that show one of Schiff’s committee staff, Minority Policy Director Rheanne Wirkkala, following up with Vovan and Lexus about the phone call. In one of these emails, Wirkkala called the prank call “productive” and inquired about obtaining the comedians’ evidentiary “materials”:
“I understand Mr. Schiff had a productive call with Mr. Parubiy, and that Mr. Parubiy would like to make some materials available to Mr. Schiff through your Embassy.”
Schiff’s spokesperson's claim that the pranksters didn’t trick him also appears to be contradicted by the recording of the phone call itself, in which the congressman can be heard repeatedly asking Vovan for clarification about certain details and the spelling of names, strongly suggesting that Schiff was taking copious notes for future reference. The congressman also ended his conversation with the comedians by thanking them for their assistance, insisting that their information was “very helpful,” and promising to follow up with "Parubiy" to obtain materials that would be turned over to the FBI for further investigation. According to The Mail’s transcript of the call (the “Caller” is Vovan) [emphasis mine]:
Caller: Of course we will provide you all our copies of all our materials. But I also would like to let you know that Sobchak and Buzova will pretty soon visit our country and we could arrest them and deliver them to your embassy and we also could extradite them to your country and you can put them to your special jail Guantanamo.
Schiff: Well, I'll be in touch with the FBI about this. And we'll make arrangements with your staff. I think it probably would be best to provide these materials both to our committee and to the FBI. So we'll make arrangements between my staff and yours on how to facilitate that. And we'll also obviously let the FBI know about Buzova and Sobchak's plans to travel to Ukraine.
Caller: I also advise you to check all Sobchak's visits in the West because she was in the West very often and suggest you check what she did there actually. And I also would like to look at Russian café on Brighton Beach Langeron and especially on head of Russian Mafia Uncle Mischa.
Schiff: Uncle Mischa? In Brighton Beach?
Caller: Yes, he's the head of Russian mafia. And he's located on that restaurant on Brighton Beach.
Caller: I just want to advise you just to look at them, please.
Rep. Schiff: Alrighty. This was very helpful, I appreciate it. Anything else you wanted to add today?
Caller: Well I hope that my information will be useful for you and your committee. And I also would like to advise you when you or your colleagues will meet with Mr Trump I advise you to tell him first part of the password, 'The weather is good on Deribasivska,' and look at how his face will change color.
Schiff: And so those passwords were used with Mr. Trump?
Caller: Yes, of course.
Rep. Schiff: Okay. Well thank you very much. We will be back in touch with you through our staff to make arrangements to obtain these materials for our committee and the FBI. I appreciate you reaching out to us.
Caller: Well let's be in touch and wait for your response from FBI.
Schiff: Excellent. I'll have them follow up as soon as possible, and I thank you again. Goodbye.
If Schiff and his staff are truly gullible enough to have taken this prank call at any kind of face value, then this raises serious concerns about their suitability to investigate Trump over alleged “collusion” with Russia. Thankfully, Vovan and Lexus are comedians whose primary purpose was to get laughs, not frame a sitting U.S. President, so they exposed their own prank call. The same cannot necessarily be said of the still-anonymous sources of Christopher Steele’s dossier whose potential political motives remain unknown to the broader public.
Another important thing that this story makes clear is that foreigners can apparently get direct access to the upper echelons of the Democratic Party power structure and influence their investigations disturbingly easily. If Democrats can’t even do a basic Google search to see who the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament actually is before clearing an imposter to speak to a top-level House member with access to classified information, then how can we trust them to competently investigate anything of significance?