By Harut Sassounian
Sen. Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) has become infamous for blocking a motion by Sen. Bob Menendez (Democrat, New Jersey) urging the Senate to vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution by bypassing the Foreign Relations Committee.
The AXIOS news website reported that as Sen. Graham was leaving the White House meeting with Pres. Erdogan on Nov. 13, 2019, one of Pres. Trump’s aides asked him to object to the Armenian Genocide Resolution being taken up by the Senate without first going through the Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Graham told AXIOS he agreed to block the Resolution “because he [Erdogan] was still in town. …That would’ve been poor timing. I’m trying to salvage the relationship, if possible.”
When asked if he felt uncomfortable blocking the Armenian Genocide Resolution, Sen. Graham told AXIOS: “Yeah, because I like Bob [Menendez].
He’s been working on this for years, but I did think with the president of Turkey in town that was probably more than the market would bear.” Sen. Graham then added: “I’m not going to object next time.”
The POLITICO Magazine revealed last month that in a phone call with a Russian prankster Alexey Stolyarov, who presented himself as the Defense Minister of Turkey Hulusi Akar, Sen. Graham told him that he was more than willing to work with Turkey to improve its relations with the United States.
Sen. Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop confirmed to POLITICO that the Senator had in fact been deceived by the Russian prankster: “We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” he said. “They got him.”
Actually, the Russia prankster had fooled Sen. Graham on more than one occasion.
Contradicting his public statements, Sen. Graham told the fake Turkish Defense Minister that he agreed with Turkey’s position that the Kurds were a ‘threat’. Graham also said that he and Pres. Trump were opposed to placing sanctions on Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 missile system.
Here are some excerpts from the phone call:
Prankster: “So as far as I understand, President Trump has entrusted you with these negotiations,” the man Graham assumed to be Akar said, according to the audio of the 16-minute call.
Sen. Graham: “Yeah, sort of. Let me tell you what he [Pres. Trump] told me: ‘I don’t wanna impose sanctions on our ally Turkey.’”
Prankster: “Yes, but what has President Trump said about the free-trade agreement?”
Sen. Graham: “Okay. So, he told me to call President Erdogan and make this offer. … I don’t know what to tell you other than I am doing all I know to do and President Trump is very sympathetic to the situation of President Erdogan, but the Congress is not sympathetic. Democrats are not sympathetic at all, and we’ve lost some Republicans here when it comes to Turkey. And Turkey is too valuable of an ally to get in a dispute with.”
According to GQ Magazine, the Russian prankster had called Sen. Graham earlier in July from a Turkish cell phone he had bought especially for this occasion.
The prankster told Sen. Graham that he would serve as the point of contact for him with the Turkish government. Sen. Graham agreed to call the prankster back after he spoke with Pres. Trump.
On August 12, Sen. Graham called the prankster back and boastfully told him: “I met with the president; I spent the weekend with him. We played golf yesterday and had dinner over the weekend, and we talked about our friends in Turkey, and I told him my desire was to change the conversation and to get you back in the F-35 program and sign a free-trade agreement and move it in a new direction, and that’s what he would like to do.”
“And did you tell him about our conversation?” the prankster asked.
“Yes,” said Sen. Graham. “…We want to have a stronger relationship with President Erdogan. I personally like President Erdogan. I think President Trump likes President Erdogan. I think he’s a strong man, and we need to deal with strong people. So, I think the next thing to do is to have the two presidents talk with each other.”
The prankster then asked what he should report to Pres. Erdogan.
“Here’s what we should do,” Sen. Graham said. “Let me call the president back this afternoon. I’ll call you tomorrow, and here’s what I think we should do. We should have a call between the two presidents…and I think the conversation should be — you can tell President Erdogan that I spent the whole weekend with him, and the president does not want to sanction Turkey. He thinks that’s crazy. I personally think that’s crazy. We need to find a way around that.”
Sen. Graham also confirmed in his phone call with the Russian prankster that Pres. Trump has a personal interest in the Turkish state bank that had violated US laws by trading with Iran! According to a Bloomberg report, Pres. Trump had told then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ask the Attorney General to drop the case of the Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab who was arrested in the US for his role in the Turkish bank’s fraudulent transaction. Erdogan had lobbied US officials for Zarrab’s release.
While the disclosures in the phone calls are not stunning, it is a serious security risk that a Russian prankster, who is allegedly connected with the Kremlin, is able as the Defense Minister of Turkey to talk to Pres. Trump’s close ally, Sen. Graham, who then conveys the Russian’s messages to Pres. Trump. Sen. Graham then reports his conversation with the US President back to the Russian.
It is often said that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” This is so true in the case of Trump and Graham, who have gone from being vicious enemies to close friends. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump called Graham ‘crazy,’ ‘a ‘nut job,’ and ‘one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.’ And, in turn, Graham called Trump, a ‘kook,’ ‘crazy,’ and ‘jackass.’ Now they are close friends and play golf together!