Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), fell for a spoof by Russian pranksters who promised in a call with the top House Democrat to furnish him with“kompromat”–compromising dirt–on President Donald Trump.
Schiff found the early 2017 call with the Russian pranksters, who posed as Ukrainian leaders, “productive,” one of his staffers wrote in an email to the Russians-posing-as-Ukrainians with whom he was communicating. Now, after getting caught in the media by reports in the Atlantic magazine and the U.K. Daily Mail newspaper—as well as audio of the call appearing on YouTube—a Schiff spokesperson claims the powerful Democrat congressman thought the call was “bogus” from the beginning. But that’s not what the record shows.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF ADAM SCHIFF WITH RUSSIAN PRANKSTERS:
The notorious Russian pranksters, who the Daily Mail’s Alana Goodman notes are “comedians nicknamed ‘Vovan’ and ‘Lexus’” who have become famous for “their phony calls to high-ranking American officials and celebrities, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Elton John,” posed as leading Ukrainian officials in their call to Schiff in early 2017.
“On an audio recording of the prank call posted online, Adam Schiff can be heard discussing the committee’s Russia investigation and increasingly bizarre allegations about Trump with a man who claimed to be Andriy Parubiy, the chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament,” Goodman wrote in the Daily Mail.
As Goodman noted, the call’s existence was first reported by the Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe—who noted that the call took place in early April 2017. Ioffe wrote:
On April 10, 2017, an assistant to Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Donald Trump’s campaign for possible collusion with the Kremlin, patched in a long-planned call from Andriy Parubiy, the speaker of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. Parubiy said he had some potentially explosive information about Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.
The call, per the audio available on YouTube, begins with platitudes and introductions and Schiff thanks the man he thinks is Parubiy for his time addressing him as “Mr. Chairman.”
The man then pitches that he wants to provide materials to Schiff for his committee’s investigation on “Trump” and the “Russian government,” to which Schiff cautions him that the Russians were likely listening to the call.
“I would just caution that our Russian friends may be listening to the conversation, so I wouldn’t share anything over the phone that you don’t want them to hear,” Schiff said.
After the Russian prankster posing as the Ukrainian official said he had no concerns with what the Russians may or may not hear, he proceeded to tell Schiff about what would have been explosive allegations against the now-sitting president of the United States if they were true.
“In November 2013, Mr. Trump visited Moscow, he visited competition Miss Universe, and there he met with Russian journalist and celebrity Ksenia Sobchak,” the prankster said.
Sobchak has extensive ties to Putin, the prankster told Schiff, adding that she is “also known as a person who provides girls for escort for oligarchs. And she met with Trump and she brought him one Russian girl, celebrity Olga Buzova.” The prankster even told Schiff that Sobchak is a “special agent of Russian secret service.”
In reality, Sobchak is actually anti-Putin—an ex-Playboy model running against the Russian president on an anti-corruption platform after her time as a television anchor. But no matter to Schiff; he was entranced by the possibility of “kompromat” on Trump.
After, per the Russian pranksters posing as Ukrainian officials in their conversation with Schiff, Sobchak introduced Trump to Buzova, Buzova “got compromising materials on Trump after their short relations.”
“There were pictures of naked Trump,” the prankster said.
Schiff, per the Atlantic report, “betrayed no emotion.”
“And so Putin was made aware of the availability of the compromising material?” Schiff asked the man he thought was a Ukrainian leader.
“Yes, of course,” the prankster replied, adding that Putin told Trump “all those compromising materials will never be released if Trump will cancel all Russian sanctions.”
Adding insult to injury, the pranksters convinced Schiff that they had a recording of Sobchak and Buzov discussing this during a recent visit to Ukraine and that the Ukrainian officials would provide said recording to the FBI and the House Intelligence Committee’s Democratic minority staff.
But that’s not all. The pranksters told Schiff that Trump’s ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with Russians in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn speaking in code words. From the Atlantic piece, here is more:
He told Schiff about meetings that Trump’s former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had had with a Russian pop singer who served as an intermediary for the Kremlin. They’d met at a café in Brighton Beach, a Russian-immigrant enclave in Brooklyn, where, Parubiy said, “they used a special password before their meetings.” One would say, “Weather is good on Deribasovskaya.” The right response was “It rains again on Brighton Beach.”
Schiff told the men he thought were Ukrainian officials that what they had told him was “very helpful.”
“All righty. Good, this is very helpful. I appreciate it,” Schiff said. He also pushed for the release of the evidence that the pranksters invented for their stunt to the FBI and the House committee for which Schiff is ranking member.
“We will try to work with the FBI to figure out, along with your staff, how we can obtain copies,” Schiff said.
What’s more, after the call, Schiff told his staff that it was “productive” and told them to follow up with the pranksters-they-thought-were Ukrainians.
“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,” Rheanne Wirkkala of the House Intelligence Committee minority staff—Schiff’s team—wrote to the pranksters that Schiff’s team still thought were Ukrainian officials. That email was sent in the early days of April 2017.
Wirkkala is no low-level staffer. She is, per her LinkedIn page, the policy director for the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
Wirkkala sent a second email during the Democrats’ correspondence with these Russian pranksters that Schiff and the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee originally thought were Ukrainian officials that further illustrates that for several days Schiff and his team thought this was real.
In the April 5, 2017, email, Wirkalla asked the men she and Schiff thought were Ukrainian officials: “do you know when we might be able to meet your colleagues at the Ukrainian embassy here in Washington, DC to pick up materials?”
Now, upon the release of this call in the Atlantic and Daily Mail, and the recording of it on YouTube, Schiff’s team is claiming he always knew it was “bogus.”
“Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus,” a Schiff spokesperson told the Atlantic.
In a statement to the Daily Mail, the Schiff spokesperson added more: “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.”
But as the Daily Mail’s Goodman noted, Schiff’s team has “declined” to respond to the fact that Schiff’s policy director called the call “productive” and moved forward with seeking the production of the fake evidence in emails post-call with the pranksters.
“The spokesperson declined to address on the record why a staff member pursued the ‘politician’ after the call if the congressman thought it was fake,” Goodman wrote.
It remains to be seen what the fallout here is, but Schiff’s office has yet to provide any explanation for the emails and how he handled the actual call. But top Republicans are already pouncing on this demanding that he be sidelined from his role on the committee after this embarrassing development.
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) February 6, 2018
Schiff getting removed from his committee role would have drastically negative consequences on the Democrats’ efforts to stick Trump with the Russia scandal anymore. He has been the public face of the investigation, appearing relentlessly on television and in the media to push it forward—and even fundraising off of Breitbart News articles about his actions.