I’ve now carefully read through The Comey Memos and I think Donald Trump told the FBI director a brazen lie about his time in Moscow in order to try to convince him that the Pee Tape story was not true. To examine this, I’m going to lay out a bare-boned chronology, relying largely on the careful reporting of Michael Isikoff and David Corn.
Trump landed in Moscow on November 8,  having flown there with casino owner Phil Ruffin on Ruffin’s private jet. (Ruffin, a long-time Trump friend, was married to a former Miss Ukraine who had competed in the 2004 Miss Universe contest.) Trump headed to the Ritz-Carlton, where he was booked into the presidential suite that Obama had stayed in when he was in Moscow four years earlier.
This is the night that Donald Trump spent in the hotel room in Moscow. It was the night before the Miss Universe pageant. Trump did not stay at the hotel the night of the actual pageant.
After the event, there was a rowdy after-party with lots of vodka and loud music. A 26-year-old aspiring actress, Edita Shaumyan, made her way into the VIP section, entering the roped-off area the same time as a famous Russian rap singer named Timati. Shaumyan caught Trump’s eye. He approached her, gestured to Timati, and asked, “Wait, is this your boyfriend? You’re not free?” She said no. “You’re beautiful,” Trump told her. “Wow, your eyes, your eyes.” According to Shaumyan, “He said, ‘Let’s go to America. Come with me to America.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no. I’m an Armenian. We’re very strict. You need to meet my mother first.’” When other women approached, trying to get photographs with Trump, he took hold of Shaumyan’s arm and said, “Don’t go. Stay. Stay.” Shaumyan took selfies with him. (She later produced five photos and a video of her with Trump that night.) But nothing further happened. Trump later had somebody give Shaumyan his business card with his phone number on it. She never called.
From the party, Trump headed to the airport. He was going straight home on another Ruffin jet.
I think there has been some confusion on this point because on both the evening of November 8 and the evening of November 9 there were vodka-infused parties. On the eighth, the occasion was a more private celebration. Before we get to that, though, I just want to run through what Trump did during the day. After checking into the hotel, he had a meeting with executives from the pageant and the Agalarovs who were essentially hosting and partially bankrolling the event. According to the congressional testimony of Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller, an unidentified Russian approached him at this meeting and offered to “send five women to Trump’s hotel room that night.”
The entourage then had lunch at a famous sushi restaurant that is partially owned by the Agalarovs as well as actor Robert DeNiro. After lunch, Trump visited the venue site in Crocus City Hall. He stayed in that location during the evening: “That night, Aras Agalarov hosted a party at Crocus City Hall to celebrate his 58th birthday.” And Trump stayed at the party until late in the evening.
At about 1:30 a.m., Trump left the party and headed to the Ritz-Carlton hotel a few blocks from the Kremlin. This would be his only night in Moscow. According to Schiller, on the way to the hotel, he told Trump about the earlier offer of women, and he and Trump laughed about it. In Schiller’s account, after Trump was in his room, he stood guard outside for a while and then left.
Now, if there’s a good reason to doubt the Pee Tape story it isn’t on the say-so of Trump’s loyal bodyguard. It’s because it was already quite late in the evening when they arrived at the hotel and Trump was back up and working on a music video for Emin Agalorov early the next day.
The morning of November 9, Trump showed up for Emin’s shoot. He was needed for the final scene. The video would open with a boardroom meeting with Emin and others reviewing Miss Universe contestants. Emin would doze off and dream of being with the various contestants. Enter Trump for the climax—Emin wakes up with Trump shouting at him: “What’s wrong with you, Emin? Emin, let’s get with it. You’re always late. You’re just another pretty face. I’m really tired of you. You’re fired!” Trump’s bit would only last 15 seconds. Yet soon Emin would release a video that he could promote as featuring the world-famous Trump.
I can’t establish the exact time that Trump was at this shoot, but he definitely did not sleep in. Even if had gone straight to bed the night before, he probably would have gotten no more than four or five hours of sleep. Did Russian women show up at the Ritz Carlton that night? There are several reasons to believe they did, including that Christopher Steele was able to partially corroborate a rumor that he learned of from a conversation that took place in New York City several years later by having sources talk to staff at the hotel in Moscow. I also think it’s interesting that Keith Schiller felt compelled to admit that the offer was made, even if he denied that Trump accepted it.
Donald Trump did not tell James Comey that version of events during their conversation on January 28, 2017, however.
At this point, Trump had had about three weeks since the publication of the dossier to refresh his memory about his time in Moscow. He says that he had used the time to talk to other people who had been with him on the trip, and they had reminded him that he had not stayed at the hotel the night of the pageant but had instead flown straight home. That was true, but also highly irrelevant. The incident, if it occurred, would have happened the night before the pageant when he did stay at the hotel. On an issue of such grave importance both for his relationship with his wife and for its implications for the credibility of the much more serious charges in the dossier, you’d think that Trump would have figured out by then when the incident was supposed to have taken place.
The dossier had been in the possession of the FBI for months and they had already established that elements of it were true. Trump understood this, and yet he was trying to con the FBI director into thinking he hadn’t spent a single night at the hotel during the whole trip. This was far too brazen. He could be forgiven for not remembering the exact chronology of events or even for being confused about elements of them when he tried to piece them together three and a half years later. But he didn’t forget that he had stayed a night at the hotel.
He tried various arguments on Comey in at least three different conversations. He said that he wasn’t the kind of person who would need hookers and that he was a germophobe who wouldn’t want to be abound urine. He said that he was aware that hotel rooms often have cameras and that he wouldn’t have been so reckless. But he also argued that the story was impossible because he had never actually stayed at the hotel. He knew he was being deceptive, and what’s kind of staggering about it is that he even went so far as to suggest that Comey investigate the matter in an effort to disprove it.
By that time, the FBI had been combing over his trip to Russia and even if they had refrained from looking into the Pee Tape aspects of the dossier, they knew when Trump arrived and departed and on which plane with which associates. They had confirmed that he had booked a room in the presidential suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel. There was literally no hope that Trump’s excuse would stand the barest scrutiny on Comey’s part, which would undermine the president’s credibility with him. Yet, he said it anyway.
Later on, when his bodyguard had to account for the evening in question before congressional investigators, he had a very different story to tell. Far from arguing that Trump had not spent a night at the hotel, he said that he had mentioned the offer of hookers to Trump as they were walking back to the hotel from Aras Agalarov’s birthday bash. We said that he and Trump had both had a laugh about it. He also said that he spent some time outside Trump’s room before retiring to his own and so could confirm that no brood of prostitutes showed up that evening.
Trump had evidently forgotten all of this when he talked to Comey. If he’d remembered it, he would have used it then to help explain the origin of the rumor.
The whole idea of The Pee Tape is somewhat hilarious but it pays to remember that the whole idea behind it is that it helps explain why Donald Trump is so deferential to Vladimir Putin. He is supposedly terrified that Russia had possession of video footage of him in a hotel room having prostitutes urinate on a bed that the Obamas once slept in. To me, that angle of the story was always so weird that it almost had to be true because no one is deranged enough to make it up. As Naomi Fry put it:
To me, the oddest detail of all is the idea that defiling the bed after rather than before the Obamas occupied that Moscow suite—a years-late voodoo ritual—might count as taking revenge on the then President and First Lady. It is this bizarre logic that in fact seems most like Trump, with his crazed rage at perceived enemies and fixation on old offenses—chronology be damned!—and it is what might ultimately count as the true perversity here.
There’s a name for people who believe that the tape exists: peelievers.
When I saw that Trump lied to Comey about spending a night at the hotel at all, it made me more of a peeliever.