Category: Donald Trump
Who is Aron Shaviv?
Updates with additional background.
The name of Aron Shaviv, a British-born Israeli campaign consultant with an impressive resume, has surfaced lately in investigations of underhanded election plots by Russia.
The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an interest in Mr. Shaviv as part of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government.
According to a scoop by independent journalist Scott Stedman, Shaviv’s name was mentioned in a subpoena issued in April 2019 by the Senate Intelligence Committee to Walter Soriano, a British security consultant whose connections to Israeli intelligence and Russian oligarchs was the subject of one of my previous posts.
On his website, Shaviv claims to have helped elect 14 heads of state, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s unknown whether Shaviv did any work for the Trump campaign or why the Senate Intelligence Committee is interested in him. But that isn’t the end of his problems.
One country that’s absent from Shaviv’s impressive roster of clients is the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro. Shaviv was the chief consultant for the pro-Russian party Democratic Front in the 2016 Montenegrin parliamentary elections.
My friend Alon Eisenberg pointed me to a report this week in The Times of Israel that suggested Shaviv had another, less overt mission there. According to prosecutors in Montenegro, Shaviv took part in a plot led by two Russian military intelligence officers to overthrow Montenegro’s government and stop it from joining NATO. Police broke up the plot on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections.
Shaviv’s partner in this was an ex-CIA officer named Joseph Assad, who was working as Shaviv’s security consultant. Prosecutors suspected that Assad’s real job in Montenegro was to help coup plotters flee the country after assassinating the country’s prime minister, The New York Times reported.
“During the investigation that was launched against Joseph Assad and eight others for creating a criminal organization and attempting terrorism, the prosecutors found evidence that Shaviv, a UK and Israeli citizen, also committed a crime. So we have ordered an extension of the investigation,” Cadjenovic told Balkan Insight.
In the run up to the Montenegrin parliamentary elections, one of Shaviv’s companies received 1.5 million Euros from a Czech company — codenamed “S.” The Czech company’s CEO and representatives are Russian, Cadjenovic said. Assad was paid out of this fund.
Four men identified as ex-FBI agents are also said to be under investigation for their role in the attempted coup backed by Russia.
Shaviv was born in Oxford, England in 1979 and made aliyah to Israel as a teenager. He became a captain in the Israeli Defense Forces and served as a “field agent for a civilian intelligence agency,” according to an archived version of his company’s website.
Shaviv got his start in politics in 2006 working for Avigdor Lieberman, an influential Israeli politician who has long been investigated — but never charged — for receiving millions of dollars from Russian oligarchs like the notorious Michael Cherney and others connected to Vladimir Putin.
While working in government for Lieberman, then the minister of strategic affairs, Shaviv set up a private consulting firm, Shaviv Strategy & Campaigns, began consulting for politicians throughout Europe and Africa. Shaviv’s clients include past and current presidents and prime ministers of Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, Poland, Romania, Kenya, Congo, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Serbia and the European Commission, according to the company’s website, which also cites its work for U.S. presidential elections.
In 2012, Shaviv played a role in the U.S. presidential election. He ran iVoteIsrael, which sought to get U.S. citizens living in Israel to vote in the American election with messages like this:
Shaviv said iVoteIsrael received its financial backing from the “[Sheldon] Adelsons of the world.” Reporters found that iVoteIsrael’s corporate filings listed the Manhattan address of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. iVoteIsrael claimed 80,000 Americans living in Israel voted in 2012, with the majority overwhelmingly casting ballots for Republican Mitt Romney.
In 2015, Shaviv was campaign manager and chief strategist for Netanyahu’s re-election. As the vote approached, polls showed Netanyahu on the verge of losing. But then on Election Day, in a move straight out of the Cambridge Analytica playbook, Netanyahu bombarded right-wing voters with millions of fearmongering text messages warning them — falsely — that Arabs were going to the polls in “droves.” Netanyahu won.
See this excellent report, featuring Shaviv, on how Netanyahu won:
The iVoteIsrael campaign won Shaviv a political consulting award from Campaigns & Elections and the Netanyahu campaign victory earned him international consultant of the year honors from American Association of Political Consultants.
But Montenegro and his alleged role in an attempted coup has cast a dark shadow over his bright career. He tweeted that he has been “PNGed” — presumably a reference to being made persona non grata — after the alleged coup attempt.
In May 2017, Shaviv said there are two theories about what happened in Montenegro.
“The first theory would be to believe that it is a failed Russian operation involving an Israeli political consultant, a retired Serbian general, a former CIA agent and some villagers with hunting rifles,” a Democratic Front press statement quoted Shaviv as saying.
But, “if there is anything to be learned from the recent past, Russian military operations neither look like that nor fail like that.”
Felix Sater, Scoundrel or Hero?
Can a scoundrel become a hero?
Tales of redemption sure make for a great story. The Bible is filled with them. Anna Karenina, arguably the greatest novel, is a story of redemption. So is Star Wars. But when we’re faced with a real life example, our hearts harden. Do people really change? Is it all just an act?
Felix Sater, who scouted real estate deals for Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and earlier, is an ex-con who ran a Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme. He is also an undercover government informant for the FBI, the CIA, and other three-letter agencies who risked his life overseas for the country that put him in prison.
So what is Felix Sater, a scoundrel or a hero?
Before you answer, you should know that we don’t have all the facts. There’s reams of material on all the bad things Mr. Sater did in his 20s. Countless articles and even an entire book has been written about it. However, when it comes to to the sensitive work Mr. Sater subsequently did as an undercover government informant, we know only the vaguest outlines.
Much of the court filings regarding Mr. Sater’s years of cooperation with the government — described as being “of an extraordinary depth and breadth, almost unseen in this United States Attorney’s Office” — still remain under wraps. Trump’s election and Mr. Sater’s desire to tell his own story are slowly forcing the details to come out of the shadows.
We got another glimpse yesterday thanks to Leo Glasser, the 95-year-old (!) judge who’s being hearing Mr. Sater’s case since 1998. Judge Glasser ordered the release of previously redacted portions of Mr. Sater’s 2009 sentencing hearing where prosecutors described the details of his cooperation.
I’ve compiled the bulk of the newly unsealed passages and skipped over two shorter redactions that tell us nothing. If you want the whole transcript as released by Judge Glasser, it’s here.
First up, Sater’s attorney Leslie Caldwell:
The information he provided was extraordinary. He provided information, as our letter and the government’s letter indicate, about Russian military intelligence. He provided the United States intelligence authorities with information relating to missiles — Stinger missiles — that the United States intelligence authorities were interested in repurchasing from the Taliban. That information was real. It was provided to the intelligence authority. We didn’t know it was acted upon. Of course we wouldn’t know, but F.B.I, agents confirmed that Mr. Slater’s serial numbers he actually provided were actual serial numbers. …
But he also risked his life working with the F.B.I, on unrelated matters, completely unrelated to his case. He flew to Cypress where he met with criminals from Russia in connection with this identity theft scheme which he had no involvement in.
At one point Mr. Slater was [in] Cypress, those Russian criminals told him to get into the car and drive away with him, which he did to the chagrin of the F.B.I, watching him. He’s here to tell the tale, but he really has risked his life in ways that the court doesn’t often see.
He flew to Central Asia to gather intelligence information. That information related to the kinds of individuals, including surprisingly and somewhat surprisingly, Osama Bin Laden, which are really the more extreme enemies of this country. Mr. Slater, really, he provided, and I don’t want to get into all of the details, he provided a telephone number to the government for Osama Bin Laden. He provided locations for Osama Bin Laden. He knew somebody who had a connection to Osama Bin Laden and was able to provide that person with a satellite phone so that that person could relay information, which Mr. Slater relayed to the F.B.I., which the F.B.I relayed to the intelligence authorities.
The kind of cooperation provided – and I’m not minimizing the underlying criminal activity – but had Mr. Slater’s case come to light in 1991, rather than being asked to come back from Russia to surrender, Mr. Slater might have been asked to stay in Russia to provide — he was capable of providing information not because he, himself, was involved in those terrorist-type activities, but because he had contacts who had contacts, who could put him in touch with certain people. So I think there’s a real possibility that he may not have been standing in a court of law in the United States, had his case come to light somewhat later than it did. Again, I’m not minimizing the underlying criminal conduct, but I do think that’s a fact, in light of the changing world after September 11th.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Kaminsky:
Felix Slater worked in the field of foreign intelligence, which [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Miller is going to address in a minute, was just exemplary. He traveled to parts of the country — parts of the world, rather, to countries that the United States had no known ties, that were extremely dangerous, where there would have been no recourse for him,should something have gone wrong, and he went there willingly, voluntarily, and with enthusiasm to help the agency and to help the United States. Then when he was in the process of doing that, he came back to the United States and continued to do the work in the leading and cutting edges of wherever burgeoning fields of crime were first coming forth, international financial fraud, Felix Slater was on the cutting edge of that. Even though he was not a participant,he was able to determine from his contacts what was going on,brought it to the F.B.I., had brought cases to them or he brought instances to them, and once again arrests were made,and whole fields of criminal activity were eliminated to agencies, and arrested were made, and he did this.
Judge Glasser says he will release Sater’s 5k1.1 letter in 30 days, barring an objection from the government.
This is the real gold mine. It’s the official government letter to the court requesting a lenient sentence on a defendant for his extraordinary cooperation. It will catalogue all his work for the government.
No doubt some of it will be redacted, but it may help more of us make up our minds about Felix Sater.
Time to Put a Lie about Felix Sater to Rest (Updated)
Of all the characters in the Trump/Russia saga, few are more fascinating than Felix Sater.
Sater is many things: a Russian emigre, the son of a gangster, an ex-con, and the guy who scouted real estate deals in Moscow for Donald Trump.
He was also a very valuable informant to the U.S. government for many years, as you can see from some photos I recently came across regarding Evgeny Shmykov, an ex-spy who was Sater’s long-time contact in Russia:
The guy that Shmykov stands shoulder-to-shoulder with? That’s Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban leader assassinated right before the 9/11 attacks.
These photos got some attention on Twitter, but as always, whenever Sater’s name comes up, people inevitably connect him to a powerful Russian Mafia boss named Semion Mogilevich, known as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.”
It’s time to put this to rest.
There is no, I repeat, no credible evidence linking Sater to a Russian Mob boss who was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
In writing my book, Trump/Russia, I spent quite a bit of time looking for evidence of the Sater-Mogilevich connection. In the end, I concluded that it just wasn’t there. To paraphrase Robert Mueller, if I had found evidence that Sater was connected to Mogilevich, I would so state.
There’s no doubt Sater did have ties to Russian organized crime. Sater’s father, Michael Sheferfofsky, was a Russian gangster who pleaded guilty in 2000 to two counts of extortion for shaking down businesses in Brooklyn.
Update: In her 2020 book, Putin’s People, Catherine Belton wrote that she spoke to two former Mogilevich associates in 2018 who told her that Sater’s father “become an ‘enforcer’ for some of Mogilevich’s interests” in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Another British journalist, Paul Wood, told me in 2019 that he spoke with someone from Mogilevich’s organization who told him that there is a link between Sater himself and Mogilevich.
Even so, proof is still lacking. There’s no mention of Mogilevich in Sherorfksy’s criminal file.
So where does this claim come from?
The Sater-Mogilevich link is found in a Supreme Court petition for a writ of certiorari in Palmer v John Doe. 14-676.
This sounds like credible evidence. It’s convinced many people, including me, as my 2017 blog post shows.
The thing is it’s bullshit. Yes, I know. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
While reporting my book, Trump/Russia, I tried to get to the bottom of this. I asked Richard Lerner, the attorney who wrote the Supreme Court petition, how he learned about the Sater-Mogilevich connection.
He somewhat sheepishly admitted that it comes from a website called Deep Capture.
This is where things get weird.
Deep Capture was written by Mark Mitchell, a former editor at Columbia Journalism Review, to “expose the ‘deep capture’ of American institutions by powerful and corrupt financial interests.”
Bankrolling Deep Capture was Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, a publicly-traded online retailer.
Byrne is famous for, among other things, a 2005 conference call with investors that touched on subjects ranging from:
“Miscreants, an unnamed Sith Lord he hopes the feds will bury under a prison, gay bath houses, whether he is gay, does cocaine, both or neither, and an obligatory, not that there is anything wrong with that, phone taps, phone lines misdirected to Mexico, arrested reporters, payoffs, conspiracies, crooks, egomaniacs, fools, paranoia, which newspapers are shills and for who, payoffs, money laundering, his Irish temper, false identities, threats, intimidation, and private investigators,” wrote Mark Cuban, the basketball team owner, investor, and host of Shark Tank.
That’s just a sampling. You can read the full thing here.
Byrne has also accused reporter Bethany McLean of giving Goldman Sachs traders blowjobs and said on live TV that he knew for a fact of a fax machine in the offices of CNBC where every morning hedge funds send in “instructions” for journalists. Authorities at Salt Lake City’s airport arrested him in 2013 when they found a loaded handgun in his carry-on luggage.
Sater is one of Byrne’s “miscreants” who appears as a recurring character in Deep Capture, where he is described to this day as a “Mafia boss” and “a Russian mobster and a member of the Mogilevich organization (controlled by Semion Mogilevich).”
To give you a taste of Deep Capture, check out this now-deleted post that describes … well, just read it for yourself:
A month or so after that, an offshore businessman who had provided some information to our investigation received in the mail a beautiful, lacquered, Russian matryoshka doll. And inside this doll, there was a slip of paper.
On the paper was the letter “F” — with a cross on it. The businessman knew right away that the letter “F” stood for “Felix” – Felix Sater.
The businessman said he had called Felix Sater to see what the deal was with the doll. And after talking to Felix, the businessman invited Patrick Byrne to a greasy spoon diner in Long Island. It was urgent, aid the businessman — so Patrick made haste.
And when Patrick arrived at the diner (along with two other people, who can testify to this) the offshore businessman, discarding with formalities, said, “This meeting can be very short. I have a message for you from Russia.”
The message, said the businessman, was this: “‘We are about to kill you. We are about to kill you.’ Patrick, they are going to kill you – if you do not stop this crusade [the investigation into destructive market manipulation], they will kill you. Normally they’d have already hurt you as a warning, but you’re so weird, they don’t know how you’d react. So their first step is, they’re just going to kill you.”
According to the businessman, this threat had come straight from the mouth of Felix Sater.
Maybe this did happen. Then again, maybe the moon landing was faked. Maybe the Illuminati controls the world. Maybe 9/11 was an inside job. I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen.
Editor’s note: I am striking my snarky comments because I was wrong. Patrick Byrne has shown me evidence that this conversation did take place. In a recorded 2007 phone call, a transcript of which is in my possession, Byrne’s associate was told: “And there’s a beautiful box and inside is a matryoshka and I opened up the last matryoshka and inside is an F with a cross on it, which is for Felix.” I was also played the recording of this call. A clear threat was relayed to Mr. Byrne, who did not make this story up. I owe him an apology.
Patrick Byrne emailed me August 4 to say:
“For the record, your email reminded me that Felix wrote me once (while I was very ill) and denied being the source of the Russian death threat against me. He was quite gentlemanly, and I think I said I would post it. However, I think I was in a cardiac unit at the time, come to think of it, and it never got done.”
Byrne didn’t answer my questions about what evidence he has for the Sater-Mogilevich connection, which can still be found on his website.
In 2016, a Canadian judge ordered Byrne and Mitchell to pay $1.2 million (Canadian) over published claims that Altaf Nazerali, a Vancouver businessman, was a gangster, an arms dealer, a drug trafficker, a financier of al-Qaida and member of the Russian and Italian Mafias.
Nazerali is mentioned in the deleted post quoted above about Sater and the matryoshka doll. Nazerali is described as a friend of Sater’s, although I’d wager that they never met.
The judge wrote that Mitchell and Byrne “engaged in a calculated and ruthless campaign to inflict as much damage on Mr. Nazerali’s reputation as they could achieve. It is clear on the evidence that their intention was to conduct a vendetta in which the truth about Mr. Nazerali himself was of no consequence.” Read the decision here.
A month before the ruling was issued, Byrne announced he was taking an indefinite personal leave of absence from Overstock.com to battle stage 4 Hepatitis C. He returned to his duties a few months later.
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Mitchell and Byrne’s appeal in August 2018 and affirmed a seven-figure award.
Maybe you think Sater a bad guy. Maybe you think he made amends for his criminal past. Either way, a man whose life is far more fascinating than most of ours will ever be doesn’t need to be embellished with fiction.
We’re Responding to Russia. Don’t Tell the President
During the just-concluded G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, President Trump sardonically warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay away from the 2020 US presidential election. Responding to a reporter’s question, Trump playfully pointed his finger at Putin and said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin just laughed.
The president might think that the ongoing Russian efforts to interfere in American democracy is all just a big joke. But his administration doesn’t.
It was only a few days earlier that Trump accused The New York Times of a “virtual act of treason” for a June 15 story that revealed that U.S. Cyber Command had placed “implants” — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — deep inside the Russian electrical grid. Still mad about the story two days later, he tweeted that it was “fake news” and called on the newspaper to release its “phony” sources.
Even Putin was puzzled by the president’s reaction. “I am not sure how we should interpret that — if it means that they disclosed real information or it was a planted story,” he said during his annual “Direct Line” with Russian citizens. “But in any case, we have to respond one way or another; we must understand what this is about.”
Putin was asking the right question. What about the report had prompted the president’s unhinged response? Why was the president so upset about a report that the U.S. government was, after years of inaction, finally fighting back against Russian cyberattacks?
The little-noticed answer lies buried in defense legislation and executive orders signed by Trump himself. Although written in dense bureaucratese, what it says is pretty remarkable: Rather than work with the president when it comes to Russia, Trump’s administration has simply decided to work around him.
Like a parent with a obstinate child, the Trump administration, with an assist from Congress, cut the president out of the decision-making loop on national security decisions involving Russia. The Times, then, was a convenient scapegoat for the president’s impotent fury at his own people.
It’s no secret that Trump has long refused to acknowledge even basic truths about the Russian threat, but the consequences to U.S. national security aren’t so well known.
This definitive report in The Washington Post — based on interviews with more than 50 (!) current and former U.S. officials — described how the intelligence community was structuring the president’s daily brief (PDB) to avoid upsetting Trump.
“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official….
Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.“Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked,” Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, Philip Rucker, Dec. 14, 2017.
For far too long, the response to ongoing Russian cyberattacks was a big fat ZERO. That only encouraged Russia and other countries to wreak havoc in cyberspace.
“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Dan Coats, Trump’s own director of national intelligence warned in July 2018. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Then things started to change.
On August 13, 2018, Trump signed a defense bill that basically gave the U.S. military’s Cyber Command a green light to respond to Russia.
The aptly named John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act authorized Cyber Command to take “appropriate and proportional” action aimed at disrupting, defeating, and deterring Russian cyberattacks, including those aimed at our democracy. The bill also allowed the defense secretary to authorize clandestine military activity in cyberspace without prior presidential approval.
The conference report on the bill, written by Republican and Democrat members of both the House and the Senate, was revealing:
The conferees have been disappointed with the past responses of the executive branch to adversary cyberattacks and urge the President to respond to the continuous aggression that we see, for example, in Russia’s information operations against the United States and European allies in an attempt to undermine democracy. The administration’s passivity in combatting this campaign, as documented repeatedly in hearings before the congressional defense committees in the past 2 years, in the judgment of numerous executive branch officials, will encourage rather than dissuade additional aggression. The Congress has worked diligently to ensure that the Department possesses the necessary capabilities and authorities to combat, in particular, these Russian information operations, and this authorization represents further progress toward that objective. The conferees strongly encourage the President to defend the American people and institutions of government from foreign intervention.
Read that again and take a moment to reflect on that remarkable passage.
Two days after signing the McCain defense bill, the president signed National Security Presidential Memorandum No. 13. This still-secret memorandum freed the military to conduct offensive cyber operations “without a lengthy approval process,” so long as they don’t cause “death, destruction or significant economic impact,” The Washington Post reported last year.
Apparently without realizing what he was doing, Trump had just given the go-ahead for the types of operations described in the Times article that left him so unhinged.
Spearheading America’s aggressive response in cyberspace to Russia is General Paul Nakasone, the dual-hatted leader of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command.
Nakasone has pushed a strategy of “persistent engagement” with our Russian foes in cyberspace. In other words, we don’t sit back and wait for our enemies to attack; we take the fight to them.
Under Nakasone, U.S. Cyber Command has shifted from a response force to a proactive one that meets our adversaries in the foreign networks where they lurk. “If we find ourselves defending inside our own networks, we have lost the initiative and the advantage,” Nakasone told a professional military journal.
Securing the 2018 midterm elections was Cyber Command’s No. 1 priority, Nakasone told Congress, and it prompted him to create the “Russia Small Group.”
On Election Day last year, the Russia Small Group shut down the computer networks at the Internet Research Agency, the so-called St. Petersburg “troll factory” behind much of the social media manipulation during the 2016 election. The Russia Small Group also helped state election officials identify vulnerabilities and improve threat warning and it dispatched forces to beef up cyber defenses in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Ukraine.
Much of its work remains secret, but U.S. senators hinted earlier this year that it was no coincidence that the 2018 midterms were not impacted by Russia. Further proof of the group’s success is the fact that it’s now a permanent fixture at the NSA/Cyber Command, housed in a new, $500 million cyberwarfare bunker at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Few Americans realize that the United States is flexing its muscles in the cyber realm, but Russia is keenly aware of what’s going on. “Vitally important spheres of our economy have been targeted with cyberattacks from abroad,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said in the wake of the Times report. An anonymous law enforcement source told RIA Novosti, a Kremlin-owned news outlet, that the Times story about U.S. incursions in the electrical grid is true, although the Russians say they’ve managed to stop the attacks so far. Last fall, Russian trolls and hackers received direct messages identifying them by their real names and warning them not to interfere in the affairs of other nations.
The only one who seems unsure of what’s happening is the president, who may have realized too late what he signed away when he gave his administration the authority to go on the offensive against Russia.
The implications of the decision to take decision-making authority out of the president’s hands are sobering. It was not a decision that was taken lightly.
It reflects a judgement on the part of Congress and the administration that when it comes to Russia, the 45th president poses a threat to the national security of the United States.
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.