Energy Secretary Rick Perry thought he was talking about cyberhacking and a biofuel breakthrough in a call with Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman. Alas, the 22-minute phone call was actually conducted with Russian pranksters.
Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, who are described as the "Jerky Boys of Russia," have conducted similar prank calls with U.S. Senator John McCain and singer Elton John. They arranged the call with Perry last week, just a few weeks after he had met with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, and his delegation.
In it they pitched Perry on a new fuel made from alcohol and manure and discussed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, according to a recording posted online.
They also wondered if Ukraine could get a cut-rate deal on U.S. coal exports.
Maybe, Perry said.
“Negotiation is always possible,” he told them.
Ukraine and Russia are neighbors, but at odds over Russia’s annexation of the disputed Crimean region. Congress is poised to toughen sanctions on Russia following its actions in the 2016 U.S. election campaign.
"We look forward to bringing some oil and gas interests to the Ukraine," Perry said during the call, adding that the Trump administration opposed the proposed Nordstream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany. The administration is supportive of sanctions against Russia, Perry added.
Calls between Cabinet secretaries and foreign officials are typically closely vetted; it’s not clear how the pranksters connected with Perry.
Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes confirmed the faux phone call took place.
“Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters," Hynes said in an email. "These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine.”
The Jerky Boys were a pair of American pranksters who sold millions of recordings of their prank phone calls with unsuspecting victims in the 1990s. Kuznetsov and Stolyarov have adopted the same practice, posting audio of the calls online.
The phone call was first reported by E&E News.
Here's the conversation as it was broadcast in Russsia.