|NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO|
One of the enduring mysteries of the Russia scandal is what happened -- or did not happen -- in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow on November 8 and 9, 2013. Was Donald Trump, the future U.S. president, secretly videotaped cavorting with urinating prostitutes by the FSB, the Russian security service, to use for blackmail as is explosively claimed in the Steele dossier? Or were his activities that weekend more mundane? It might not particularly matter at this late date had not Trump himself been so obsessed with a salacious incident he claims did not happen.
Trump had flown from North Carolina to New York on the evening of Thursday November 7, 2013 and then on to Moscow on the private jet of casino owner Phil Ruffin. He arrived early on the morning of Friday, November 8 and checked into the Ritz-Carlton's presidential suite where Barack and Michelle Obama had stayed four years earlier. He overnighted at the Ritz-Carlton, was in the Russian capital all day on Saturday, November 9, attended the Miss Universe Pageant that night and departed for New York early on Sunday, November 10, on a Ruffin jet.
This sequence of events -- including the overnighter -- is beyond dispute because of an extensive examination of FAA records, social media postings and interviews compiled and authenticated by Bloomberg News. But Trump's account of the weekend differs even in this fundamental respect, and underlying his insistence that the incident with the peeing prostitutes could not have occurred is his claim that he did not spend the night in Moscow despite Bloomberg's investigation and testimony by Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard, that he did.
The president's ability to lie about anything anytime is well known, which of course casts doubt on his entire recollection of the weekend, but what is beyond dispute is that he was in Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and a long-sought meeting with his hero, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump had purchased the pageant 17 years earlier, partnering with NBC, which aired his reality TV hit "The Apprentice" from 2004 to 2015.
The pageant was one of Trump's most prized properties, bringing in millions of dollars a year in revenue and burnishing his image as an international playboy, but it was an open secret that Trump's real agenda in Moscow was not the show but his desire to do business there. He had spent decades unsuccessfully trying to develop high-end projects in Moscow, and to succeed in doing business there he wanted Putin's seal of approval.
Aras Agalarov (on the left in the photo above), a billionaire oligarch close to Putin, was Trump's partner in the pageant, which would be televised around the world from Agalarov's Crocus City Hall, a gaudy 7,000-seat theater. Because of Agalarov's Kremlin ties, he also could cut through a lot of red tape for Trump so he finally could realize his dream of building a Trump Tower Moscow.
Trump had met Agalarov and his pop star son Emin the previous June in Las Vegas when he hosted the Miss USA Pageant.
After the pageant, they dined at CUT, a restaurant located at the Palazzo hotel and casino. Also attending were Rob Goldstone, Emin's British publicist who was to set up the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where a Russian lawyer doing the Kremlin's bidding promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and Michael Cohen, Trump's now notorious personal lawyer and fixer.
After the dinner, Trump, Emin, Goldstone and two other people decamped to a nightclub in the Palazzo complex called The Act. The management of the raunchy nightclub had heard that Trump might be there and discussed whether they should prepare a special performance for Trump, perhaps a dominatrix who would tie him up onstage or transvestite Trump impersonator. The idea was nixed.
Among the club's regular acts was one in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor and another in which two women disrobe and one stands over the other and simulates urinating into two wine glasses held by the other, an act strikingly similar to that said to be on the so-called Pee Tape.
|STEELE DOSSIER MEMO EXCERPT (June 20, 2016)|
Shortly after Trump's arrival in Moscow, Agalarov delivered a message stating that "Mr. Putin would like to meet Mr. Trump."
Trump thought there was even a chance the Russian leader would attend the pageant. It would be the flowering of their bromance, but as the weekend wore on, he heard nothing else and the meeting never occurred because of what the Kremlin later said was a scheduling conflict.
Schiller, who also has served as a go-between for Trump's liaisons with Stormy Daniels and other women with whom he has had affairs, would later tell congressional investigators that a Russian approached Trump's party after a brief meeting with Miss Universe executives and the Agalarovs on the morning of November 8 with an offer: The Russian wanted to send five women to Trump's hotel room that night. Schiller said he didn’t take the offer seriously and told the Russian, "We don’t do that type of stuff."
At about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, November 9, Trump left a party to celebrate Agalarov's 58th birthday and headed to the Ritz-Carlton. According to Schiller, on the way to the hotel he told Trump about the earlier offer of women, and he said he and Trump laughed about it. According to Schiller's account, after Trump was in his room, he stood guard outside for a while and then left to go to bed, but perhaps significantly could not say what happened during the rest of the night.
The Steele dossier purports to tell what did happen.
In the first of the 20 confidential memos that Steele, a former British MI6 spy provided to Fusion GPS that make up his dossier, he concluded based on his sources that Moscow had been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years, has information on him, including the Pee Tape, that could be used as kompromat (compromising material) in blackmailing him.
Trump and his inner circle, writes Steele, "have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals" based on compromising material on Clinton collated by Russian intelligence services over many years.
Steele writes that a source who was present in the presidential suite says that Trump employed "a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him" as a way of defiling the bed in which Barack and Michelle Obama had stayed. The source told Steele that hotel employees had corroborated the incident.
When David Corn of Mother Jones magazine broke the story of the dossier on October 31, 2016, three days after FBI Director James Comey's stunning announcement that the FBI's Clinton email investigation had been reopened and eight days before Trump's victory, he did not identify Steele by name and the story was little noticed in the avalanche of election news. When on January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published a story on the dossier and a redacted version of it, the ensuing media frenzy focused on the Pee Tape allegation and little else.
|JAMES COMEY MEMO EXCERPT (January 28, 2017)|
On January 6, 2017, Comey, accompanied by NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan, briefed President-elect Trump at a meeting at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York, telling him that their agencies had concluded that the Russian government mounted a massive covert campaign to disrupt the election and elect him president. After the others left the room, Comey briefed Trump on the contents of the Steele dossier, including the Pee Tape allegation.
Comey, in a memo he wrote in his limousine immediately after the meeting, said Trump erupted over the Pee Tape allegation: "He interjected, 'there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes.' He then said something about him being the kind of guy who didn't need to 'go there' and laughed (which I understood to be communicating that he didn't need to pay for sex)."
A redacted and declassified 15-page version of that memo and six subsequent memos written by Comey after meetings and conversations with Trump because of his concern that the president would later try to distort what they had discussed, were released by the Justice Department on April 19. The memos are significant because of Trump's repeated efforts to get Comey to drop the Russia investigation, as well as his preoccupation with and categorical denials about the Pee Tape allegation.
On January 11, in a follow-up phone conversation to the Trump Tower meeting, Comey wrote that unsolicited the president-elect said "I'm a germaphobe. There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way." He then asked what could be done to "lift the cloud" because the allegation was so painful for First Lady Melania Trump.
On January 28, Comey met again with now-President Trump at a private White House dinner. Again unsolicited, Trump brought up the Pee Tape allegation and again was adamant that he had not spent the night in Moscow. Comey wrote that "He says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn't happen."
During a February 8 meeting in the Oval Office, Comey wrote that Trump -- again unsolicited -- repeated the claim that he had not overnighted, again brought up "the hooker thing," and curiously noted that Putin had told him "we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world," but did not say when Putin -- whom the public record indicates Trump did not meet face-to-face until July 7, 2017 at a G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany -- had told him that.
Trump brought up the tape yet again -- and yet again unsolicited -- during a March 30 phone conversation. Comey wrote that Trump was concerned that the "golden showers thing" would cast a "cloud" over his presidency, insisted the claim wasn't true, and asked, "Can you imagine me, hookers?"
The very right-wingers who demanded that the Comey memos be released because they would prove he had leaked classified information now realize their demand -- a hit job engineered by the despicable Trey Gowdy, Bob Goodlatte and Devin Nunes -- has backfired because of Comey's devastating portrayals of Trump as a corrupt and deeply paranoid narcissist.
Still, they not only don't believe the Pee Tape exists, they believe Comey used it as a trap.
Under this scenario, Trump was an innocent family business operator naïve to the ways of Washington, let alone Moscow, who was accosted by a scheming deep state operator who sprang the dossier and Pee Tape allegation on him four days before the BuzzFeed story so he could later leak Trump's reaction to the news media. There is no record that happened.
Comey has been agnostic on the matter of the Pee Tape during his current tour to promote his Trump memwow, A Higher Loyalty.
"I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth," he says, "but I don't know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don’t know."
The Pee Tape scenario bordered on the implausible for me and perhaps many other people 18 months ago. But today we are abundantly aware of Trump's innumerable affairs. Never mind that Melania was caring for an infant while he was pursuing Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, whom he bedded in Trump Tower. Or that he had been married to Melania for five years when he journeyed to Moscow. His sexual appetites are now well known. Nothing should surprise us, including consorting with peeing prostitutes provided by Putin's FSB for the purpose of kompromat.
Yet even if the Pee Tape is real and is released, the result would be briefly titillating and then predictably depressing as Trump would step up his denials, claims would be made that the tape was doctored, and the Democrats and Clinton would be blamed.
If the Pee Tape does exist, and Trump's repeated, unsolicited and defensive comments suggest that he might have consorted with prostitutes at the Ritz-Carlton that night, why hasn't the tape been released?
That's easy. Because the tape is much more valuable to Putin as an existential threat to Trump sitting in a Kremlin closet than it is in the harsh light of day so long as the president continues to offer fawning obeisance.
This he has shown every sign of doing, most recently in undermining U.N. Ambassador Nicky Haley and his national security team is sandbagging an agreed-upon plan to impose new economic sanctions because of Russia's support of Syria after its latest chemical weapon attack.
This post is based in part on Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's
War on America (Michael Isikoff and David Corn, 2018)
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