Category: Spooks

The pee tape

Someday, we may find ourselves staring in amazement at our computer screens as a man who resembles the 45th president performs unspeakable acts with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.

But Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, thinks that day will never come. And he’s in a good position to know one way or another.

The public first learned of the possible existence of what came to be known as the pee tape from the Steele dossier. Former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele reported that prostitutes had performed a “golden shower” urination show for Trump in the Moscow Ritz where he was staying during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. This had been recorded by Russian intelligence for purposes of blackmailing Trump.

But this claim about a pee tape wasn’t news to Cohen. Thanks to a newly released transcript from the House intelligence committee, we now know that Cohen first heard about the pee tape shortly after Trump returned from Russia.

Trump denied it, but he asked Cohen to find out where the rumors were coming from.

Testifying under oath, Cohen says he spoke to many people about the tape, including one unnamed caller who demanded $20 million.

Another person who called Cohen about the tape was Harvey Levin of the gossip site TMZ, who also had heard about the existence of the tape. (TMZ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

In the end, Cohen concluded that the pee tape didn’t exist for a very practical reason. If prostitutes had urinated on the bed in the Moscow Ritz, where did Trump sleep that night?

The tape had acquired a life of its own, Cohen said, much like the claim that he had attended secret meetings with Russians in Prague, which also appeared in the dossier. Cohen said under oath that all the allegations concerning him in the dossier are false.

But, Cohen also relates an interesting anecdote about the dossier. After it was published January 10, 2017 by Buzzfeed, Trump called Cohen at home.

In other words, Trump seemed very concerned. He appeared unsure whether the allegations in the dossier regarding Cohen were true or not.

So let me make sure I got this right. This is the same dossier with the golden showers allegations that Trump scoffs at. If those claims, which appear in the very front of the dossier, were false, would he really need to see Cohen’s passport in the middle of the night?

In other words, if there’s a huge lie on page one of the dossier, you don’t need to scrutinize pages two, three, four, and five, especially not in the middle of the night. It can wait until morning.

Perhaps Trump was just panicking, but it seems quite possible that something in the dossier hit the mark to cause such panic for Cohen to go rushing back to Trump Tower waving his passport. Whether that’s the pee tape or not, we don’t know.

Steele, unlike Cohen and Levin, Steele, was passing along more than a rumor about the pee tape. He claimed to have confirmed the incident with three separate sources:

  • “Source D,” described as having “been present.”
  • “Source E,” a “senior/western member of the staff at the hotel,” who was aware of the golden showers incident at the time it occurred in 2013.
  • “Source F,” a female staffer at the hotel who confirmed the story.

I remain unconvinced. It could be Steele was the victim of a Russian disinformation effort. As I wrote in Trump/Russia, this kind of tawdry material in reports compiled by former spooks was not out of the ordinary:

What people failed to realize was that sordid allegations like the one in Steele’s report were a dirty secret of the world of private investigations. Several people familiar with this world told me that reports by companies like Kroll, K2, Mintz Group, IGI, and others were often littered with tawdry allegations. “Yes, sex stuff comes up a lot and it’s often nonsense,” a DC attorney who often hires private investigators told me. One veteran opposition researcher told me he has seen the same thing so often that he has detected a pattern: when the subject of the investigation was connected to Latin America, drugs were involved; when the connection was Russia or Eastern Europe, then it was usually sex. “Every single one of their reports has something like that,” the opposition researcher said. “That’s what they pitch the client to keep them on the hook. They then spend months trying to confirm it.”

Then again, maybe Steele got it right and one day we may find ourselves staring in amazement at our computer screens as a man who resembles the 45th president performs unspeakable acts with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.

Five surprises in Glenn Simpson’s testimony

1060x600-7763685d68b3f61401827c6db1372603

Glenn Simpson

Well, it took a couple of days, but I finally managed to read through Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s 312-page testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thank you to Sen. Dianne Feinstein for releasing this information last week over the objections of Republicans. Sen. Feinstein said the American public deserve to make up their own minds. Couldn’t agree more. You can find the testimony here.

So I thought I would pick things that jumped out at me from Simpson’s testimony:

1. An internal source in the Trump Organization was providing the FBI with information about Russian collusion.

Simpson learned this from Christopher Steele, the former British spy he had hired to investigate Trump’s links to Russia. Steele’s findings, including the scandalous scene in the Moscow Ritz, were so alarming that he took his findings to the FBI. The FBI told Steele, yes, we’ve heard something similar from our internal Trump source. Simpson refused to answer questions about who this source might have been, but this source was not one of Steele’s source. Huge bombshell. (p. 175)

2. Someone has been killed as a result of Steele’s reports.

Simpson’s lawyer, Josh Levy, drops this on p. 279. “Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,” he says. Curiously, nobody challenges this, which makes it seem an accepted fact. Maybe they were all just tired after 9 hours of questioning. The person is not named, but presumably it’s someone in Russia. Otherwise, it would be a bigger deal, right?

3. Felix Sater is connected to Russian organized crime kingpin Semion Mogilevich  This connection has been alleged in a Supreme Court petition filed in 2012 by lawyers Fred Oberlander and Richard Lerner to unseal Sater’s criminal case. The Website Deep Capture made the same claim, but the sourcing wasn’t very strong, as did two New York attorneys in court filings. (Update: Sources I’ve spoken to led me to doubt this claim.)  (p.69)

4. Chris Steele broke off talks with the FBI in part because of a story in The New York Times. This was the infamous Halloween 2016 story that reported that an FBI investigation of Trump found no ties to Russia. The Times story and FBI Director James Comey’s bizarre decision to reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email made Steele concerned that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by Trump’s people. (p. 178).

5. Bill Browder’s comical efforts to hide from Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson.
This isn’t a single event. It’s more like a pattern. Maybe Simpson is a liar as Browder says or maybe Browder doesn’t like anybody nosing around in his business practices in Russia. Read it for yourself and see what you think pp 40-48.

Fusion GPS Speaks

1060x600-7763685d68b3f61401827c6db1372603

Glenn Simpson 

Simpson and Fritsch penned an opinion piece in today’s New York Times. The purpose of the opinion piece was to let the public know what they spent 21 hours explaining to three congressional committees.

Most of the piece rebuts the many rumors surrounding Fusion GPS, including one big one — former British spy Christopher Steele’s sources were not paid for the information that he compiled about Trump, including the scandalous watersports-in-Moscow story.  This is big because paying sources undermines their credibility.

Simpson and Fritsch note their “dismay” that Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier in January 2017. This bothers me because Fusion GPS was shopping Steele and this dossier to every major news outlet who would listen. I guess this is the Washington game, but washing your hands in dirty water is not how you stay clean.

For Trump-Russia investigators, they did offer up a few tidbits:

  • Simpson and Fritsch told investigators to look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Trump’s businesses.
  • In Manhattan,  Sunny Isles Beach, Florida; Toronto; and Panama, they found “widespread evidence” that Trump had worked with “dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.”

There is a lot of information packed in to those few sentences.

Simpson and Fritsch also note, as we did recently here, that Trump’s allies in Congress have dug through their bank records to tarnish the firm and punish them for bringing light into the darkness of Trump’s Russia dealings.

One person who lit up after reading this piece was Bill Browder, Putin’s self-styled enemy No. 1 who was once his biggest fan. Here he is, borrowing from the Devin Nunes “attack the client” strategy, as he vented his anger on Twitter today:

The Steele dossier, unfortunately, is a distraction. It is raw intelligence, not evidence, and was never intended to be used in a court of law. In the public’s mind, however, it has been impossibly conflated with the legitimate investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

It does Browder no credit that he stokes this confusion and allows his hatred of Fusion GPS to become grist for conservative media outlets that seek to undermine the Mueller inquiry. (“The dossier is the foundation on which the case for Russiagate, including Mueller’s investigation, is built.”)

As Browder surely knows, since he’s paid for many an investigation himself, who hired Fusion GPS doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that if Fusion GPS didn’t dish up facts, it wouldn’t be in business. Period.