The top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence fell for a prank phone call in which two Russian comedians claimed to have compromising information on President Donald Trump, including recordings of discussions about naked photos.
The lawmaker, California Rep. Adam Schiff, also had members of his staff follow up to obtain the dirt on Trump, The Daily Mail reports.
The two comedians, known as Vadum and Lexus, called Schiff in April pretending to Andriy Parubiy, the chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament.
In the call, Vadum and Lexus claimed to have recordings that would reveal Russian President Vladimir Putin was blackmailing Trump with photographs of him and a model named Olga Buzova in a compromising position.
The pranksters said that Putin was dangling the scandalous material over Trump in order to coax him to relax sanctions.
The duo claimed the photos were taken during Trump’s trip to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. The infamous Steele dossier, which Schiff has touted in the past, makes similar allegations about Trump. The unverified document claims that the Kremlin has recordings of Trump with prostitutes during that trip.
“And what’s the nature of the kompromat?” Schiff asked in the phone call.
“Well, there were pictures of naked Trump,” one of the pranksters said, later describing the material as “naked photos taken during an affair between the president and a Russian glamour model.”
One of the two identified the model as Buzova.
Schiff appeared interested in obtaining the information.
“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,” he said in the call, which last around eight minutes.
Audio of the phone call was posted online in 2017 but received scant media attention. Vadum and Lexus have pranked other prominent figures, including Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain.
A Schiff aide followed up with the pranksters a day after the phone call.
“I understand Mr. Schiff had a productive call with Mr. Parubiy, and that Mr. Parubiy would like to make some material available to Mr. Schiff through your embassy,” wrote Rheanne Wirkkala in an April 4, email that Vadum and Lexus provided to The Daily Mail.
“Please let me know how best to arrange pick-up of those materials from your Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” she continued.
“Do you know when we might be able to meet your colleagues at the Ukrainian embassy here in Washington, D.C. to pick up materials?” Wirkkala followed up the next day, writing.
Schiff’s staff claimed to The Daily Mail that he was immediately suspicious that the phone call was a hoax. But they did not address questions about why staff followed up with the Vadum and Lexus if they thought he was being pranked.
“Both before and after the call, we were aware that it was likely bogus and had already alerted appropriate law enforcement personnel, as well as after the call,” a Schiff spokesperson told The Daily Mail.
“Obviously, it was bogus — which became even more evident during the call — but as with any investigation that is global in scale, we have to chase any number of leads, many of which turn out to be duds,” the spokesperson said.