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Trump Team Catfished by Email Trickster, and It’s Probably Completely Legal


Now that Anthony Scaramucci’s teeny tenure as White House Communications Director has come to an unceremonious end, it’s leaving behind a bit of communications drama with serious flair.  No charges or lawsuits seem to have been filed just yet on this one, but anything is possible in the days to come.

It turns out that a British email trickster somehow catfished his way through the West Wing.  This guy apparently posed as Jared Kushner and got a bunch of White House officials to turn over their personal email addresses. He invited Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert to a soirée (masquerading as Jared Kushner), and offered to “help things along,” with the exits of Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon (posed as Russian Ambassador Jon Huntsman). That’s right. We’ve got foreign email tricksters out there baiting top officials about what’s happening in the White House. And no one seems to be noticing. This, from the administration hell-bent on “locking up” Hillary Clinton for not being careful enough with her emails.  Good to know that our country is being run by folks lacking the e-savvy of your average middle-schooler.

This story of gross negligence crescendos in the exchange between former Communications Director and Harvard-educated bully Anthony Scaramucci. The best part? The story was broken by none other than Jake Tapper, who you may recall from last weekend’s Twitter war with Scaramucci’s “publicist” Arthur Schwartz.

According to CNN, Fake Priebus emailed the Mooch on Saturday, the day after Priebus resigned:

“I had promised myself I would leave my hands mud free, but after reading your tweet today which stated how ‘soon we will learn who in the media who 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? 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.”

Scaramucci, never one to back down, (nor, apparently, one to use appropriate capitalization) responded:

“You know what you did. We all do. Even today. But rest assured we were prepared. A Man would apologize.”

Fake Priebus wrote back:

“I can’t believe you are questioning my ethics! The so called ‘Mooch’, who can’t even manage his first week in the White House without leaving upset in his wake. I have nothing to apologize for.”

Real Scaramucci couldn’t resist:

“Read Shakespeare. Particularly Othello. You are right there. My family is fine by the way and will thrive. I know what you did. No more replies from me.”

Aw, the one time Scaramucci opts for Shakespeare over street talk, and the whole thing is fake.

Sunday, saw something of a reply from Mooch’s “publicist” Arthur Schwartz, in which Schwartz attacked Reince Priebus, accusing Priebus of having had an extramarital affair. When Jake Tapper got hold of the story, it went viral. Schwartz freaked out, weirdly denied being Scaramucci’s publicist, and then began apologizing to anyone within screen-shot. One of those people? You guessed it. The prankster. Schwartz sent the following tweet to @SINON_REBORN, posing as Reince Priebus.

There was almost an unlikely hero in this saga of stupidity. Eric Trump, was also fooled when the prankster masqueraded as Donald Trump Jr. But younger brother figured it all out and responded, “I have sent this to law enforcement who will handle from here.” What law enforcement actually did to handle it is anyone’s guess.  According to CNN,  the prankster never heard from anyone in law enforcement about his email to Eric Trump.  Of course, an investigation may still be pending.  I, for one, would really like to believe that there are some safety mechanisms in place to protect against this kind of thing. But even if precautions exist, has @Sinon_Reborn actually broken the law?

Likely not.  Pretending to be someone you aren’t isn’t necessarily civilly or criminally actionable. Generally speaking, adopting a false identity only becomes illegal when it is done for some kind of sinister purpose. That’s why it’s perfectly legal for a zillion Twitter users to adopt a handle that implies they are Donald Trump or Tom Hanks or whatnot.

From CNN‘s reporting, it appears that this prankster had no motive other than having a laugh at the expense of the Trump administration.  From the looks of things, he used legal email channels simply to send and respond to messages. Given that those messages were not threatening, there’s no obvious legal action to be taken against the successful phisher. But if we’re looking to point fingers, I’d look toward  the administration’s combined failure to squelch the fraud before it invaded every hallway of the White House.  If @Sinon_Reborn is accurate in his assertion that he’s never been investigated, that sounds like gross negligence on someone’s part.  At a minimum, I’d hope the White House is hosting a luncheon entitled “Don’t Give Your Personal Email Addresses To Random Strangers Pretending To Be Colleagues.”  For now, it’s anyone’s guess whether the prankster’s identity will be revealed, whether he’ll trick yet more administration officials, and if Scaramucci has learned to check identities before pulling out his literary quotes. One thing is for certain, though. Sounds like no matter who won the 2016 election, we were destined to have an administration that is  “extremely careless” with emails.


This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos