The absurd-sounding, still-unverified tale of Trump and Russian prostitutes is back again. Here’s where it came from.
The release of former FBI Director James Comey’s new book has plunged the United States of America into yet another round of speculation about whether the Russian government taped Donald Trump watching prostitutes urinate on a hotel bed in Moscow in 2013.
The utterly bizarre allegation — which became public by way of Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier — has never been confirmed. Indeed, beyond the hearsay of a few anonymous people, we have no evidence that it happened, and Trump himself has vociferously disputed it.
But while promoting his book this week, Comey told ABC News that he thought there was at least a possibility that it really took place. “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,” he said. “It’s possible, but I don’t know.” His book also claims Trump was fixated on rebutting the accusation in private, and that he brought it up to Comey on four separate occasions.
Now, the question of whether Donald Trump hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed five years ago does not, in and of itself, seem important to American public policy in any way.
Yet the “pee tape” claim instantly overshadowed all the other Trump-Russia allegations in the Steele dossier, for a few reasons. First, it purports to explain Trump’s unusually pro-Russian and pro-Putin views with the idea that the Russian government has “kompromat” on him — blackmail material that he knows about and is seeking to prevent them from releasing. Second, it’s salacious, unusual, and sexual (and, to many, funny). And third, there’s the promise that documentary evidence exists … somewhere.
However, there are also many reasons to think the pee tape story could be complete bullshit.
For one, we have actually learned more about Steele’s sourcing for the tale, and it doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Then, of course, there was the revelation that Steele’s research was ultimately funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, which raises some obvious questions about the project’s objectivity.
Perhaps most revealingly, though, even Steele and his allies have confessed some doubts about the “pee tape” tale to reporters they trust — a new book claims that Steele’s business partner says his dossier’s claims were “not meant to be definitive,” and that Steele himself has said there’s only a “fifty-fifty” chance this particular claim is correct. Yet still, we’re talking about it, once again.
1) What is the “pee tape” claim?
In April 2016, Clinton campaign and DNC campaign lawyer Marc Elias retained the firm Fusion GPS to research Donald Trump and his ties to Russia. Fusion then retained the services of Christopher Steele, a retired MI6 officer based in London with Russian contacts, to look into the matter.
Steele’s “dossier” of research would eventually comprise 17 reports written over a six-month period. These reports cite several (anonymous) sources of information but on the whole tell a story of years-long ties between Trump and the Russian regime, and a conspiracy to influence the election.
The “pee tape” allegation is in the very first of those reports, dated June 20, 2016. Here it is:
So the allegation is that in 2013, Trump hired “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him,” aimed at “defiling” the bed of the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, because Barack and Michelle Obama had previously slept in that bed. (Note that the claim is not that Trump participated in this display, but rather that he requested and watched it.)
Then the implication — although it’s not explicitly stated — is that Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, recorded all this with “microphones and concealed cameras” so it could later be used for “kompromat” and “blackmail” material over Trump if necessary.
As the saying goes: Whoa … if true.
2) Why in the world does anyone think the “pee tape” claim might be true?
First, there’s Christopher Steele himself, and his own reputation. He’s a former MI6 spy who spent a few years based in Moscow in the early 1990s, and later held a top position at MI6’s Russia desk back in London. In 2009, he left the service and set up his own private research firm, Orbis. There he worked for corporate clients and at one point the English Football Association (to investigate Russia-related FIFA corruption). He’d helped out the FBI on past investigations, and his contacts there are said to view him highly.
Second, Trump was in the right place at the right time — he traveled to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant and stayed for one night at the Ritz-Carlton. That in itself doesn’t give the allegation more credibility — Trump’s trip was high-profile and had been public knowledge years before Steele began his research — but, inconveniently for Trump, it makes it impossible to conclusively disprove the allegation.
There’s also Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller’s later testimony that a Russian business associate offered to “send five women” up to Trump’s room during this very trip — though he says he and Trump turned down the offer. Schiller also testified that later that night, as Trump was headed back to his hotel room, he and Trump discussed that earlier offer again in passing. Schiller says this was a joking conversation, but it certainly raises an eyebrow that he admits there was indeed talk of multiple prostitutes …read more
Read more here: The “pee tape” claim, explained