James Comey’s book describes a President Trump “obsessed” with allegations compiled in a dossier by British agent Christopher Steele that he was secretly recorded in Moscow in 2013 paying prostitutes to urinate on a bed that President Obama had slept in. I used to doubt that this episode really happened. I now believe it probably did. I am obviously far from certain, but since Steele’s dossier came out, an accumulation of evidence has tipped the balance from unlikely to likely. Let’s review what we’ve learned since the allegation first surfaced.
1. Christopher Steele is credible. Steele isn’t just some gumshoe. He’s an experienced intelligence collector whose work has been valued by the British and American governments. His sources seem to be serious, too, including “a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” a “member of the staff at the hotel,” a “female staffer at the hotel when Trump had stayed there,” and “a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow.”
Steele himself has said that probably not every fact compiled in his dossier is true. The dossier was not intended as solid intelligence, but as a collection of leads. Still, the fact that Russia almost certainly murdered some of the sources for his reporting in the immediate wake of the dossier’s publication further attests to their credibility.
Update: One of the firmest denials Trump’s orbit has made of the Steele dossier has been its report that Michael Cohen met with Russian agents in Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen has produced a passport showing no Czech visit. But McClatchy reports that Robert Mueller has evidence he did go to Prague to meet with Russians then, going through Germany, which would avoid any mark on his passport. In addition to constituting important evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia, this is significant corroboration of Steele’s work.
2. Trump is unhealthily obsessed with Obama. Trump’s fixation with Barack Obama has been evident since his 2011 humiliation at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But as we have mapped out the contours of Trump’s unbalanced psyche over the course of his presidency to date, the centrality of Obama has grown even more evident. He would routinely tell guests touring the Oval Office that the previous president had ignored the room. “Obama never used the Oval, but Trump is different,” he would say, in his customary third-person.
Obama hatred is the lodestar of Trump’s often confused policy-making. “It’s his only real position,” a top European diplomat told BuzzFeed last year. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’” Even bizarrely self-defeating actions like sabotaging the health-care exchanges, which will cause premiums to spike right before this November’s midterm elections, seem to be motivated by a desire to defile his predecessor’s legacy. Getting prostitutes to pee on the bed Obama slept in seems to be very much in character.
3. Trump has mixed his denials of the pee tape with obvious lies. Comey’s account describes Trump denying the pee tape, and, in the same breath, denying things that happened on a tape that has been seen by the entire country:
Trump also tried to convince Comey that he had not mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski at a campaign rally, and then turned to the detailed allegations of sexual assault against him.
“There was no way he groped that lady sitting next to him on the airplane, he insisted,” Comey writes. “And the idea that he grabbed a porn star and offered her money to come to his room was preposterous.”
And then Trump brought up “the golden showers thing,” Comey writes. The president told him that “it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true.” Comey writes that Trump told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to “prove it was a lie.”
Trump definitely mocked Serge Kovaleski:
And very credible accounts from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal confirm him offering to pay for sex. If you hear somebody deny accusations X,Y, and Z all at once, and you know that X and Y are true, that has some bearing on whether you believe Z is true, also. Trump does not place the pee-tape allegation in some different category from things we know he did.
4. Trump’s alibi is at least partly false. Also according to Comey, Trump “argued that it could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes.” But reporting by David Corn and Michael Isikoff reveal that Trump did spend a night at the hotel in Moscow where the episode was alleged to have taken place. Why would Trump offer up a false alibi for something that isn’t true?
5. Trump is comfortable with gross sexual behavior and can be blackmailed. We know more about Trump’s sex life now than we did in November 2016. He has had a lot of affairs. He has gone to great lengths to keep them quiet — which is to say, he can be blackmailed. And he is not averse to a sexually unconventional milieu. Corn and Isikoff have added some important reporting about a Las Vegas nightclub where Trump joined some of the entourage he had met with in Moscow:
The Act was no ordinary nightclub. Since March, it had been the target of undercover surveillance by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and investigators for the club’s landlord—the Palazzo, which was owned by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson—after complaints about its obscene performances. The club featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism—skits that a few months later would prompt a Nevada state judge to issue an injunction barring any more of its “lewd” and “offensive” performances. Among the club’s regular acts cited by the judge was one called “Hot for Teacher,” in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor. In another act, two women disrobe and then “one female stands over the other female and simulates urinating while the other female catches the urine in two wine glasses.” (The Act shut down after the judge’s ruling. There is no public record of which skits were performed the night Trump was present.)
Again, none of this is proof. All of it is at least somewhat suggestive.