For more than two years the American public fixated on the possibility the Russian government has a compromising tape of Donald Trump in 2013 watching sex workers perform a “golden shower” on a Moscow hotel room bed Barack and Michelle Obama had recently slept in (“the pee tape”). But for some reason we haven’t heard much about the revelation in the Mueller report of previously unreported evidence that the controversial recording (and the revelation that there are apparently multiple compromising tapes) is in fact as real as we all in our heart of hearts know it is.
Per the report:
In 2017 I wrote a sort of throw-away column about this, titled “I’m Not A Nutjob: Here Are Eight Reasons The Pee Tape Is Real.” In revisiting that piece, I can say today without reservation or embarrassment that it all holds up, except for perhaps the “not a nutjob” claim, a subjective judgment best left to my readers, friends, and family.
But why aren’t we talking about this now?
A few reasons. First, the claim seems far-fetched if not outright ridiculous: It’s a highly unusual sexual act perceived as unthinkable for someone who would seek the office of President of the United States. (Remember: That person is Donald Trump, who a few years before this had a porn star roll up a magazine emblazoned with the faces of himself and his daughter and smack his naked backside at the time his wife was nursing their newborn son. Imagine if the dossier said Putin had that tape instead.)
Second, it hasn’t been confirmed, and the place it appeared—the Steele Dossier—hasn’t been entirely substantiated and is still used to discredit the Russiagate narrative, though many of the other reports in that document have, over time, proved accurate. Also, those two things are inextricably linked: The pee tape allegation was so outrageous it immediately defined the Steele Dossier in the public’s mind, and in response Trump defenders—including Trump himself in his first remarks about the dossier—eagerly, repeatedly, and wrongly substituted the absurdity of this unsubstantiated single claim for the absurdity of the entire document.
But the dossier isn’t absurd, and neither is the pee tape. If you weren’t yet convinced to the point of admitting this horrific thing is real, the Mueller report makes it much harder to defend that position today.
Here’s what the report says.
Mueller came into possession of text messages exchanged October 30, 2016, between Trump’s long-time personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen and Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze, with whom Cohen had also discussed a proposed Trump Tower Moscow the year before. A text from Rtskhiladze says, “Stopped the flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know.” The texts came three days after Trump made a hush money payment to cover up an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels—currently subject of a federal investigation in the Southern District of New York—and two days after James Comey announced the FBI was once again examining Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Special Counsel prosecutors interviewed Rtskhiladze about the texts in April 4, 2018, six months before Cohen independently told them about the texts and five days before the FBI took documents, phones, and other files in a raid of Cohen’s offices and residences. Rtskhiladze told prosecutors in his interview that the text message referred to compromising tapes (plural) reportedly in the possession of unnamed people affiliated with a prominent Russian real estate company called the Crocus Group. The Crocus Group is owned by billionaire real estate mogul Aras Agalarov, a friend of the Trumps who helped arrange the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow (the date and location of the pee tape allegation). Agalarov and his son, Emin, entertained Trump on his visit during the pageant. Aras Agalarov also set up the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting.
Cohen, for his part, told Mueller’s office he had been in contact with Rtskhiladze “in part because Rtskhiladze had pursued business ventures in Moscow, including a licensing deal with the Agalarov-owned Crocus Group.” Mueller reported that Rtskhiladze had also worked with Trump in earlier development efforts: “In approximately 2011, Silk Road Group [Rtskhiladze’s company] and the Trump Organization entered into a licensing agreement to build a Trump-branded property in Batumi, Georgia. Rtskhiladze was also involved in discussions for a Trump-branded project in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Office twice interviewed Rtskhiladze, [redacted pertaining to Grand Jury information].”
But Mueller also reports that in a follow-up interview one month later, Rtskhiladze told prosecutors he’d been told the tapes of Trump were fake. But in that same interview, Rtskhiladze said he didn’t tell Cohen he’d heard the tapes were fake. We don’t know if Rtskhiladze gave Mueller a reason for this decision.
First, it’s hard to explain why Rtskhiladze would tell Cohen he stopped a “flow” of tapes he didn’t think were real. Either Rtskhiladze wanted to assure Trump that non-existent tapes wouldn’t come out—totally illogical—or this exchange between Cohen and Rtskhiladze was part of a more involved series of communications between Russians and people in Trump’s orbit about the risk the tapes posed as blackmail. But why would Rtskhiladze (or anyone) believe that Trump (or anyone) would care about blackmail that didn’t exist, or that they’d need assurance that such non-existent blackmail wouldn’t come to light? And if Rtskhiladze were indeed trying to reassure Cohen, or Trump through Cohen, why wouldn’t he also say, “but don’t worry—I’ve been told they don’t even exist”? (Cohen told Mueller he’d spoken with Trump about Rtskhiladze’s message.)
Even weirder, Rtskhiladze told Cohen he was “not sure if there’s anything else.” That certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who believed the tapes were fake. And why would he hang that threat over Trump? One plausible explanation: The tapes truly don’t exist, but they all know the acts themselves do, so Trump can’t be sure what was recorded and what wasn’t.
Aside from that possibility, none of this makes sense. And the fact that this text exchange happened months before the pee tape allegation became public—and months before Trump was been briefed on the allegation—certainly adds to the tape’s credibility. Well, tapes, plural. Because this previously secret text exchange also preceded by several months Paul Wood’s independent January 2017 BBC report that U.S. intelligence officials believed the Russians didn’t just have the one tape in mentioned the dossier: “Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file—they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was ‘more than one tape,’ ‘audio and video,’ on ‘more than one date,’ in ‘more than one place’—in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg—and that the material was ‘of a sexual nature.’”
Other evidence has come to light since I wrote my first piece on the tape.
First, Trump reportedly visited a Las Vegas club owned by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson on June 15, 2013, about five months before the alleged Moscow incident. The club—”the Act”—has since shut down but at the time was known for salacious performances, and court records confirm that among the regular routines was a performance in which women would “simulate urination.”
And what was Trump doing late at night at such a place? Entertaining Emin Agalarov.
Next we have accounts former FBI Director James Comey relates in a book about his interactions with Trump. Comey portrays Trump as obsessed with the pee tape, asking the FBI to publicly announce the tape didn’t exist, and telling Comey his wife Melania might actually believe it. Comey writes, “He brought up what he called the ‘golden showers thing’ … adding that it bothered him if there was ‘even a one-percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true.” Comey also said that when he briefed Trump on the dossier, the President told him he never spent the night in Moscow in 2013. Obviously this was a lie, and flight records, Trump’s own tweets, and his bodyguard’s testimony prove it.
About that bodyguard. In 2018 Trump’s longtime head of personal security, Keith Schiller, reportedly told Congress that in a meeting during the Moscow pageant—where the Agalarovs were present—a Russian offered to “send five women” to Trump’s hotel room that night. Schiller said Trump turned down the offer, and the two of them laughed about the offer as they walked back to the hotel room, where Trump went to bed alone. Schiller stood guard outside Trump’s door for a few minutes and went back to his own room, and couldn’t say with certainty what might have happened after he left.
Now: Does the pee tape mean Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government? Absolutely not. Is it important? Absolutely yes.
True, you’d think Mueller would have included this evidence in his report if he really had it. But again, the tapes wouldn’t be evidence of a criminal conspiracy to hack the election. Instead they’d be evidence that Russia has blackmail on Trump, which isn’t itself a crime, but indicates Trump poses a serious national security threat. That would fall under the counterintelligence component of the investigation, and the Mueller report—overwhelmingly focused on criminal charges—is conspicuously silent on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump himself.
Yes: Andrew McCabe confirmed that in May 2017 the FBI, concerned the President of the United States was a Russian asset, opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump personally. Mueller’s report doesn’t directly address that investigation, and though it doesn’t necessarily imply that further criminal conspiracy charges await Trump or members of his campaign, that investigation is ongoing.
If you want eight more reasons the pee tape exists, you can indulge yourself here.