World

Don Jr, the Secret Service and me

19 October 2020

6:18 AM

19 October 2020

6:18 AM

They say the past is a foreign country where things are done differently. But if I had any choice in the matter, I would invade that country, track down my past self, and smart-bomb his phone before he could text Donald Trump Jr the dumb joke which landed me in a Secret Service interrogation room.

It was November 2017 on a slow news day at babe.net, the defunct youth news site where I used to work, when I stumbled upon Don Jr’s private cell phone number. It appeared to be listed on a publicly-accessible PDF uploaded to the internet by the Trump Organization. After confirming it was genuine, I did what any puerile young reporter not working the politics beat would do: I tried to prank him.

It worked so well that Don Jr reported me to the Secret Service because he was that mad.

A quick aside on how this prank works. You ask some schmuck if he knows what the word ‘bofa’ means. When he replies ‘what’s bofa?’, you deliver a knockout punchline: ‘bofa deez nuts!’ It’s hardly bon mots exchanged over Pol Roger at the Café Royal, but it is a beloved prank of schoolboys across the country. When I texted Don Jr, I pretended to be Hope Hicks, the President’s communications director at the time, claiming to loop him in on the ‘BoPher report’. I caught him hook, line and sinker.

I put the texts into a short post on babe.net (this is the kind of story we liked to do there), and thought nothing more of it. But behind the scenes, the investigative machine of the Secret Service was beginning to whizz into life.

Six months later, two stone-faced agents named Matt and Vito were waiting for me when I landed at New York’s JFK airport after a trip home to London. They led me to an interrogation room and accused me of impersonating a government officer, an offense that carries three years in prison. I was asked if I was impulsive, trained in martial arts and knew my way around explosives. I was, to use an English expression, bricking it.

Matt and Vito determined I was not a threat to the President’s family and they let me go on the condition that I never do it again. After another agent called my girlfriend and my boss to check if I was telling the truth, I didn’t hear another peep.

I have always wondered about what went on behind the scenes of that fiasco. Just how angry was Don Jr? How far did the Secret Service look into my life? There was a two-inch-thick file with my name and DOB in the interrogation room. Were their agents annoyed that I had wasted a significant amount of their time and taxpayer money?


So this summer, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Secret Service. Last week they responded with a 56-page dossier filled with delicious details.

The report says that four days after I contacted Don Jr in 2017, he still felt that the messages were ‘aggravating and troublesome to him’. So he deleted his text in which he fell for the prank, took a screenshot on his phone and sent on the messages to the Secret Service.

Compare the two pictures below, and tell me who you believe:

bofa don jr

On the left, a screenshot from Harry’s phone. On the right, a screenshot from Don Jr’s phone which he provided to the Secret Service, where his response has been deleted

The report accused me of using ‘vulgar language’ and gleefully posting copies of the texts online. A far cry from my nervous hour in the interrogation room at JFK, when the report noted that I was ‘apologetic and embarrassed by the incident’. The agents remarked that I was ‘coherent and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs’, adding: ‘Subject appeared to be remorseful and sincere for his actions.’ Too right.

They snapped a photo of me, which shows a young man desperately trying to keep his cool and thinking about that accusation of impersonating a government agent. (I was never charged, and on looking it up, it would appear that an individual would have to impersonate the agent and demand money or documents. I just did it to make an ass of the President’s son and myself).

shukman don jr

The perp

There were no jibes about my supreme idiocy in the Secret Service report. Agents did however conduct a deep-dive on my personal social media, which turned up my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. The Secret Service had also demonstrated that I was a repeat offender, noting that I had already pulled off a textbook performance of bofa against Jacob Wohl, the hopeless right-wing activist.

One aspect of the report that indicates an inkling of a sense of humor is a detailed description of a picture I included in my texts to Don Jr by an agent who is presumably a fan of wrestling.

‘WWE wrestler Randy Orton performing his signature move, the RKO, from a ladder on an opponent,’ he or she wrote.

From the Secret Service report on Harry

There is a lesson in all of this about oversharing on the internet. It was too easy to find Don Jr’s phone number online, and too tempting to text him an infantile gag.

Don, please accept my apologies. But if you get a minute, could I tell you about the Sugondese Report that is about to drop?

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