Trump told Comey he never slept in Moscow. But he did.
WASHINGTON — The newly released memos by FBI Director James Comey reveal that President Trump repeatedly pushed back hard on claims that he once consorted with prostitutes in Moscow, claiming that he didn’t even spend a night in the Russian capital during his 2013 trip there.
At a Jan. 27, 2017, private dinner with the president, Comey wrote, Trump was adamant that the claim about hookers in Moscow, made in a dossier compiled by a former British spy Christopher Steele, was a “complete fabrication.” He told Comey he had checked with associates and was reminded “that he didn’t stay overnight in Russia” on the trip, during which he presided over the Miss Universe contest. After flying into Moscow in the morning, he “departed for New York that same night,” Trump told Comey, according to one of the former FBI chief’s memos.
But there is abundant evidence that Trump’s account to the FBI director was false: Social media posts, photographs and the account of at least two associates — including Trump’s former security chief — indicate that Trump arrived in Moscow on Nov. 8, 2013, spent the night at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and didn’t leave the city until after the Miss Universe was finished late on the evening of Nov. 9.
Indeed, Trump himself had previously boasted of spending more time in Moscow than he admitted to Comey. “I called it my weekend in Moscow,” Trump said during a September 2015 radio interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”
As recounted in the book “Russian Roulette” by myself and David Corn, Trump flew to Moscow on Nov. 8, 2013, aboard a plane owned by Phil Ruffin, a wealthy Las Vegas casino magnate, after attending a celebration for evangelist Billy Graham’s 95th birthday the night before in North Carolina. Trump then attended a lunch that day with Russian businessmen at the Nobu restaurant, a swank eatery co-owned by actor Robert De Niro and Aras Agalarov, a billionaire oligarch who was Trump’s partner in the Miss Universe pageant.
A photograph of Trump in front of the Nobu restaurant, standing in broad daylight side by side with Emin Agalarov, the pop-singer son of Aras Agalarov, was posted by the restaurant on its Facebook page. It is dated Nov. 8, 2013.
The posting corroborates the account of Rob Goldstone, Emin Agalarov’s British publicist, who in “Russian Roulette” describes the Nov. 8 lunch in great detail as well as Trump’s attendance at a birthday party for Aras Agalarov later that night. According to Goldstone, Trump stayed at the party until 1:30 a.m. before returning to his hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton.
The next day, Nov. 9, Trump is still in Moscow, tweeting about the great time he was having in Moscow and how he was looking forward to the Miss Universe pageant that night. “I was just given a great tour of Moscow — fantastic, hard working people. CITY IS REALLY ENERGIZED! The World will be watching tonight!” Trump wrote in a tweet posted at 6:21 a.m. on Nov. 9.
I was just given a great tour of Moscow – fantastic, hard working people. CITY IS REALLY ENERGIZED! The World will be watching tonight!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2013
Keith Schiller, Trump’s longtime security chief, who accompanied him on the trip, corroborated that Trump spent the evening in the city at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel when he testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee. As recounted by NBC News, the New York Times and other news organizations, Schiller told the panel that on the day they arrived he was approached by an unidentified Russian who offered to send five prostitutes to his hotel room that evening — an offer that Schiller said he turned down.
“That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone,” according to the NBC News account of Schiller’s testimony. “Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.
“One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.”
Trump’s apparently false account to Comey doesn’t prove that the allegation about hookers in Moscow is true. Comey has told interviewers this week that he doesn’t know whether the prostitutes claim in the Steele dossier is true, and in “Russian Roulette,” Steele is quoted as telling associates he now believes that there is only a “50-50” chance that the incident actually happened.
Still, if Trump could be shown to have consciously lied to Comey — as opposed to misremembering his visit to Moscow — he could theoretically be vulnerable to either being charged with lying to the FBI or obstructing justice, according to Sol Wisenberg, a former federal prosecutor who served as a deputy independent counsel under Ken Starr investigating false statements by Bill Clinton. “You could say it’s an element in obstruction because you’re not allowed to lie to a law enforcement officer,” Wisenberg said.
Given the unique circumstances of the conversation between Comey and Trump, Wisenberg said he viewed such charges, based on the president’s apparently false claim about his Moscow trip, as unlikely in the absence of other compelling evidence. Still, Wisenberg said he thought Trump’s assertion to Comey was “significant,” especially given that, according to the ex-FBI director’s memo, Trump suggested to Comey in the same meeting that he should “investigate the whole thing to prove [the dossier] was a lie.”
Nor was this the only questionable assertion Trump made to Comey about the alleged incident. According to a later memo from Feb. 8 recounting a meeting Comey had with Trump in the Oval Office, the president repeated his insistence that he never spent the night in Moscow and called the claim about prostitutes “nonsense.”
“‘[T]he hooker thing’ is nonsense but … Putin told him ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,’’’ Comey notes in his memo, adding that Trump “did not say when Putin had told him this.”
There is no evidence that Putin ever made such a remark to Trump — or that Trump had ever even communicated directly with Putin until the Russian president sent him a congratulatory telegram on the day after the 2016 election. CNN quoted a statement from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denying the account: “President Putin could not say such a thing and did not say it to President Trump, taking into account that they had never communicated before Trump became President.” Although Trump had occasionally boasted of his “relationship” with Putin in the past, he insisted in an interview with ABC News in July 2016 that he had never met with Putin and said, “I have never spoken to him on the phone.”
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