It was a rough year for Trump administration officials who were preyed on by foreign pranksters.
On more than a half-dozen occasions during President Trump’s first year in office, West Wing aides and Cabinet-level officials were tricked into conversing with foreign tricksters impersonating their colleagues or world leaders.
One prankster, known on Twitter as @SINON_REBORN and later revealed to be a 39-year-old web designer based in the United Kingdom, pulled off an impressive array of email hoaxes targeting everyone from Trump’s son, Eric, to former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Another prankster, a pair of Russian funnymen, separately convinced two Cabinet officials they were speaking by phone with the leaders of Ukraine and Poland.
Here are some of the best – and most alarming pranks – Trump allies fell for this year:
White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert
The former national security aide to George W. Bush became the recipient of a fake email from @SINON_REBORN on July 30, just six months after he began his tenure as a top adviser to Trump.
Posing as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the U.K. prankster invited Bossert to a dinner party and received more than an RSVP in return.
“Tom, we are arranging a bit of a soirée towards the end of August. It would be great if you could make it, I promise food of at least comparible [sic] quality to that which we ate in Iraq,” fake Kushner wrote in the email.
“Thanks, Jared. With a promise like that, I can’t refuse,” Bossert responded, adding, “Also, if you ever need it, my personal email is [redacted].”
Bossert eventually realized there was, in fact, no dinner party and said the White House would be “looking into these incidents further.”
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci only spent 10 days inside the White House comms shop, but he was tricked twice during that time by the same prankster who targeted Bossert. The first time, Scaramucci thought he was emailing with then-chief of staff Reince Priebus. The second time, nominee for ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr.
Twenty-four hours after Trump fired Priebus, with whom Scaramucci did not have the best relationship, his inbox pinged.
“I had promised myself I would leave my hands mud free,” wrote the prankster, posing as Priebus. “But after reading your tweet today which stated how; ‘soon we will learn who in the media has class and who hasn’t, has pushed me to this. That tweet was breathtakingly hypocritical, even for you. At no stage have you acted in a way that’s even remotely classy, yet you believe that’s the standard by which everyone should behave towards you?
Fake Priebus went further: “General Kelly will do a fine job. I’ll even admit he will do a better job than me. But the way in which that transition has come about has been diabolical. And hurtful. I don’t expect a reply.”
But the Mooch couldn’t resist, and proceeded to send this cryptic response: “You know what you did. We all do. Even today. But rest assured we were prepared. A Man would apologize.”
Days before Priebus departed, Scaramucci was supposedly approached by Huntsman. The former Utah governor, who was being impersonated by @SINON_REBORN, wanted to know which senior White House official Scaramucci wanted Trump to fire.
“Who’s [sic] head should roll first?” the email prankster wrote. “Maybe I can help things along somewhat.”
“Both of them,” Scaramucci replied, presumably referring to Priebus and then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Jared Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell
Top Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell exchanged emails with the same U.K. prankster in late September, but this time the hoax was orchestrated by Jeff Jetton, a citizen-journalist and DC restaurateur.
Posing as Kushner once again, the prankster emailed Lowell to ask whether he could “remove” some “adult content” from his private email.
“Forwarded or received from WH officials?” Lowell responded.
“I think one was forwarded from a White House official, we had discussed a shared interest of sorts. It was unsolicited. Then there are a handful more, but not from officials,” the prankster wrote.
At this point, Lowell, who was hired to represent Kushner throughout the special counsel investigation, said he would need to see all of the emails in question.
“But can we bury it?” the prankster replied. “I’m so embarrassed. It’s fairly specialist stuff, half naked women on a trampoline, standing on legoscenes, the tag for the movie was #standingOnTheLittlePeople :(.”
Apparently having not yet fallen for the prank, Lowell replied: “Don’t delete. Don’t send to anyone. Let’s chat in a bit.”
Not even the Trump family was immune to the U.K. prankster’s antics in 2017.
The prankster admitted to Buzzfeed in November that he had initially tried to prank the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr., after pictures of him hunting big game in Zimbabwe reemerged online earlier this year. When he failed to locate Trump Jr.’s email, he turned his attention to younger brother Eric instead.
The prankster claims he shared a link via email with Trump to a website affiliated with the National Rifle Association. Trump responded but almost immediately realized he had been hoodwinked.
“I have sent this to law enforcement who will handle from here,” Eric Trump replied.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry
In a departure from email pranks, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was tricked during a phone call earlier this summer when two Russian comedians, known as Vovan and Lexus, pretended to be Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
During a 20-minute conversation, the pranksters informed Perry of a new biofuel containing homemade alcohol and pig manure and spoke at length about Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
“I hope that stepping away from the Paris accord will not have any negative impact with our relationship with the Ukraine,” Perry said in the call, which occurred just after he met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
“We tried to divorce the politics from this and rally just let our record stand, one that I’m very proud of,” he added.
An Energy Department spokeswoman later accused the pranksters of targeting Perry due to his support of an agenda “that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley
Those same Russian comedians managed to fit one more prank in before the start of the new year, this time targeting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.
In an audio recording posted earlier this week, the tricksters claimed to have impersonated Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on a prank call with Haley.
The two men then discussed a case of Russian hacking in recent elections held on the fictional island of Binomo.
“You know Binomo?” they asked.
“Yes, yes,” Haley supposedly responded. “We’ve been watching that very closely, and I think we will continue to watch that as we deal with the issues that keep coming up about the South China Sea.”
Asked how the Trump administration planned to address the alleged Russian election interference, Haley allegedly said: “Let me find out exactly what our stance is on that, and what if anything the U.S. is doing or thinks should be done, and I will report back to you on that as well.”
Since the recording was released, some have suggested he woman’s voice may not actually belong to Haley.
John Degory, a spokesperson for the former South Carolina governor fueled speculation on Thursday when he declined to confirm the authenticity of the recording.
“We have nothing to share on that at this time,” Degory told the Charleston Post and Courier.