Prank Phone Calls to the Fed

Two Russian comedians duped Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell into thinking he was speaking to the President of Ukraine on the telephone.

The Wall Street Journal

                        Powell: “You didn’t fool me. Much.”


It’s not easy being the most powerful unelected person in the world, I say to myself every morning when I enter my office at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. “Home of the NBA Champion Washington Bullets,” as they used to say when I got my Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown back in the late 1970s. Of course, the team hasn’t won a title since, and now they’re called the Wizards. They said they wanted to discourage D.C.’s high crime rate by dropping the “Bullets”, but since that hasn’t worked out so well, I like to think it refers to the guys who sit in my ergonomic desk chair, and its predecessors; the Wizards of Finance who control the World’s Greatest Economy.

My intercom buzzes and I hear the voice of Linda Lou Montgomery, my friendly secretary from the Fourth Federal Reserve District, which includes all of Ohio, much of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and a teeny little sliver of West Virginia. “There’s a call for you on line 1,” she says pleasantly.

“Who is it?” I ask, maintaining the high degree of skepticism that’s essential in my job.

“A woman named Melba Toast–from a Florida trade association.”

“I’ll take it,” I snap, and I shift from early-morning-coffee-and-gaze-out-the-window mode to Full-Tilt Central Banker gear.

“Jerome ‘Jay’ Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve System, how may I help you?” Got to pay attention to trade associations, especially those in Florida–which for some crazy reason is the fastest-growing state in the country.

“Good morning, Mr. Powell, this is Melba Toast from the Florida Citrus Growers Association, how are you today?”

“Just fine, how are things down in the Sunshine State?”

“Couldn’t be better, thank you, although our members are very concerned about inflation.”

“Well, can’t blame ’em. I guess we didn’t see that one coming.”

“Nobody’s perfect Jay, but Florida’s citrus growers need to keep wages low in order to bring orange juice to America’s breakfast tables at a reasonable price.”

“Price stability is the bedrock of our economy,” I say, reading from a speech I gave last year. “Without price stability, the economy does not work for anyone!”

“That’s great to hear,” she says. “But is the Fed doing anything personally to help our members?”

I’m not sure where she’s going with this line of questioning, and my speechwriter is working remotely today, so I tread cautiously. “Well, I don’t know. What . . . exactly . . . were you thinking of?”

“Well, for example–does the Federal Reserve cafeteria have Minute Maid in a carton?”

I have to think for a moment. “Let me see,” I say, as I tap out an “e-mail” to Linda Lou: “Does the cafeteria sell cartons of Minute Maid orange juice?”

“Yes!” she replies promptly. “I’m drinking out of one–through a straw–right now!”

“Melba,” I say, “I just checked with the General Services Administration . . .”

“The federal agency that the employees steal government snow tires from?”

“That’s the one. And they assure me we do have Minute Maid in a carton.”

“Well,” the woman purrs, “if you have Minute Maid in a carton–why don’t you let her out?”

It takes me a moment, but I realize I’ve been “punked.” “Is that you Lael?” I ask, guessing it is the hottest Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve in history, Lael Brainard.

            Lael Brainard: “Moi?”


“Fooled you!” she says.

“You sure did. I always appreciated your goofball sense of humor.”

“I try to leave ’em laughing,” she says.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to work–nice talking to you, ‘Melba’.”

“Don’t let your meat loaf!”

“Ha, ha–so funny I forgot to laugh.”

I call Linda Lou on the intercom and give her a stern warning. “From now on, I want you to screen my calls more carefully,” I say. “That was Lael Brainard, she hasn’t worked here since February of last year.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. . . .”

“That’s Chairman Powell–and don’t you forget it!”

“I won’t,” she says through what sounds like a sniffle, although it could be just a telephone. I try to focus my mind on my job again, and start to work on the next issue of the “Beige Book,” or as its friends call it, the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions that the Federal Reserve publishes eight times a year. As Chairman, I’m editor-in-chief of the rag and it’s my goal to lively it up just a bit. Maybe some “personality profiles” of hard-working Fed employees, three-month-old sports scores, “Girls of the 12th Federal Reserve District” photo galleries–anything to get people to stop bitching about inflation all the time!

“Chairman Powell?” It’s Linda Lou on the intercom.


“There’s a call for you on line 2.”

“Are you sure it’s not another prankster?”

“The call is coming from inside the building, so I’m sure.”

“Okay, who is it?”

“He says his name is Bill Fold, from the Information Technology Department.”

“What’s the problem?”

“He says there’s been a data breach.”

“Put him through.” This is a Fed Chairman’s worst nightmare–that some currency speculator or foreign power would gain access to the inner workings of the Federal Reserve, and embarrass us with big trading profits in the former case, or in the latter case: an end to the U.S. dollar’s pre-eminent position as the World’s Favorite Reserve Currency!

“This is Jay Powell,” I say, trying to strike a balance between sweaty-palm panic and genial boss of some nerdy tech employee.

“Chairman Powell, this is Bill Fold, in I.T. You probably don’t know me.”

“Sure, sure I do. I remember you from the Christmas party in December. How’s the wife and kids?”

“It’s wives–I’m the polygamist, remember?”

“Right, right. They . . . uh, keeping you busy?”

“On a rotating basis, yes. Say, we noticed some suspicious activity last night and we think somebody may have hacked us.”

“That would be a tragedy,” I say in a somber voice. “They aren’t holding us up with ‘ransomware’–are they?”

“Not yet.”

“Because since we’re the Fed, if we give in to them, it will increase the money supply, further fueling inflation that’s already at pre-Paul Volcker levels.”

“That’s the downside.”

“What’s the upside?”

“There is no upside,” he says, his voice dropping an octave to the sort of serious tone you hear on pledge drives for public television. I hate it when underlings come across as more concerned than me.

“All right, well, how are we going to fix this?”

“That’s why I’m calling. I’m doing a diagnostic test of everyone’s tech gadgets.”

“Sounds good. How does that work?”

“I ask you a few questions.”



“Ha, ha,” I say, not really laughing, just fake-chortling. Office humor keeps employee morale high–if administered properly.

“So–the first question I have to ask everybody is . . .”


“Is your computer running?”

“Yes it is.”

“Well, you better catch it before it gets out the door!”

Dammit. “Punked” again. “Who is this?”

“It’s Mike . . . Mike Barr.”

Barr: “A priest, a rabbi, and a lady snake charmer walk into a bar . . .”


As much as I’d like to take this in stride, I have to say I’m more than a little irritated. Barr is the newest member of the Fed, and I made him Vice Chair for Supervision first crack out of the box. I had no idea that a former Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Frank Murphy Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, and the Roy F. and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School would turn out to be such an “office wag.”

“Okay, Mike–you got me good that time.”

“All in a day’s work here at the new ‘Fun Fed.’”

“Sure, sure. Let’s not . . . tell anyone about our little, uh, ‘conversation,’ okay?”

“Sure boss. Mum’s the word. My lips are sealed. I’ll keep this quiet as a . . .”

“Mike, I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Fine. See you in the cafeteria for lunch?”

“They’re serving fishcakes and beans, so I think I’ll eat in my office.”

“Okay, catch you on the rebound.”

I take a deep breath. I’m having second thoughts about serving out my full term–I’m signed up until May 15, 2026, and there are some rough years ahead. I’d be . . . let’s see, I’m not good with numbers–better use the calculator on my phone. 73 years old! Jesus, that’s a helluva long time if I have to endure daily shenanigans like . . .

“Chairman Powell?” It’s Linda Lou again.


“You have a call on line 1.”

“Who is it . . . and it damn well better be somebody important, somebody whose power and influence is commensurate with mine, somebody . . .”

“It’s Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky.”

I have to search my mind for a moment. A goalie for the Washington Capitals? One of those ginormous Russian boxers? A Nobel Prize-winning novelist? I give up finally and ask “Who’s he?”

“He’s President of Ukraine.”

Finally, some serious business. “Put him through!”

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