House Democrats are trying to prove that President Trump engaged in salacious activities with prostitutes in the swanky Moscow Ritz-Carlton in 2013. He repeatedly has denied any such encounter.
Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election last year and any Trump campaign collusion, first tried in March to validate the prostitute portion of the unverified Trump-Russia dossier. The attempts were made during questioning of then-FBI Director James B. Comey and Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency.
More recently, Democrats insisted on calling as a witness Mr. Trump’s former bodyguard and close aide Keith Schiller. A former New York City detective, Mr. Schiller accompanied Mr. Trump to Moscow, where he traveled to plan his Miss Universe pageant. He later sold the beauty contest.
Mr. Schiller testified in closed session about one particular night, a source familiar with ongoing congressional investigations told The Washington Times. Mr. Schiller said some people, who were not identified, offered five prostitutes but Mr. Schiller declined.
He said he later told his boss as they returned to the Ritz-Carlton, and they both had a laugh. Mr. Schiller testified that he stood outside Mr. Trump’s suite for about five minutes and then left.
Sources believe Democrats quickly leaked the secret Schiller testimony to CNN and NBC News as proof of the dossier’s accuracy. The reasoning: Since Mr. Schiller vacated the entrance and Mr. Trump was alone, no one knows for sure that prostitutes did not arrive.
“One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night,” NBC reported.
The Times’ source said the bottom line is this: Mr. Schiller, who directed Oval Office operations before resigning to take higher-paying jobs, said nothing happened and denied there was any Russia-Trump collusion.
“So in the end, the Democrats shot themselves in the foot by leaking this, because the final result is a convincing denial of the dossier’s most famous and salacious report,” the source told The Times. “A huge number of the Democrats’ claims are based on the dossier, and the dossier’s credibility is in tatters.”
First published in full by BuzzFeed in January, the dossier was financed by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The money went from them to the D.C. law firm Perkins Coie to the investigative firm Fusion GPS to former British spy Christopher Steele.
In June 2016, Mr. Steele began paying Kremlin sources on orders to prove Trump-Russian collusion in the hacking of Democratic Party computers and subsequent release of thousands of insider emails that proved embarrassing to the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Steele’s first memo, dated June 20 and filled with references to Kremlin sources, told of the supposed prostitute encounter.
“There were other aspects to TRUMP’s engagement with the Russian authorities,” Mr. Steele wrote. “One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ [compromising material] on him.”
He wrote that Mr. Trump stayed in the presidential suite to which Russian agents sent prostitutes who performed a “[urination] show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted.”
FSB is Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence agency.
‘Salacious and unverified material’
The FBI has maintained a wall of secrecy about how it specifically used the unsubstantiated dossier to target Mr. Trump and his people.
It is known that on Jan. 6, Mr. Comey traveled to Trump Tower to brief the president-elect and took him aside for a heads-up on the document’s salacious charges.
The briefing immediately leaked to CNN, making the long-rumored dossier a hot legitimate news item.
By that time, the FBI had a deep connection to the dossier. News reports said the bureau began using it in late July to obtain warrants against Trump associates. The FBI offered to pay Mr. Steele to continue investigating Mr. Trump.
Aghast, sources today have called for an investigation into how the FBI relied on what was essentially Democratic Party-financed anti-Trump rumors whose purpose was to defeat his campaign and, now, his presidency.
The Steele dossier levels collusion charges against Mr. Trump and three campaign aides. They have yet to be publicly confirmed. All four men deny the charges.
Taking the Schiller testimony was not the first time Democrats tried to authenticate the story about Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes.
House intelligence committee Democrats, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, have come to laud Mr. Steele and embrace his dossier, including its prostitution paragraphs.
Mr. Schiff’s spokesman did not respond to a message asking if the Schiller testimony put to rest the Democrats’ prostitutes investigation.
At a March hearing, committee Democrats planted the idea that Mr. Trump was compromised at the Ritz and that the Russians owned a video.
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas: All right, director, can you describe to the American people the Russian concept of kompromat?
Mr. Comey: It’s a technique that they use to gather information on people that may be embarrassing or humiliating, and using it to coerce cooperation.
Mr. Castro: In your career, have you known instances where that has been successfully leveraged?
Mr. Comey: Yes. I believe our counterintelligence division has encountered it a number of times.
Mr. Castro: Does that include private places, including places such as hotels that are wired for audio and video?
Mr. Comey: I don’t think I remember enough about the particulars to say, but in theory, sure.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California questioned Mr. Comey about Russians using “romance” to compromise a prominent foreigner.
Mr. Swalwell: Romance, you said, is another.
Mr. Comey: Yes.
Mr. Swalwell: Compromise?
Mr. Comey: Correct.
Mr. Swalwell: How about inadvertently capturing a compromise, meaning they have vast surveillance and you stumble into that surveillance and are caught in compromise?
Mr. Comey: And then they take that information, try and use it to coerce you? Yes. That’s part of the playbook.
Mr. Swalwell: And going back to compromise, can we assume that any prominent U.S. person traveling to Russia would probably be covered by Russian surveillance?
Mr. Trump apparently first heard about the Ritz-Carlton story from Mr. Comey on Jan. 6.
“I was speaking to him and briefing him about some salacious and unverified material,” Mr. Comey later told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “It was in the context of that he had a strong and defensive reaction about that not being true. And my reading of it was it was important for me to assure him we were not personally investigating him.”
Mr. Comey said he brought up the dossier because he had received information that it would soon appear in the media, which it did four days later in BuzzFeed.
Once in office, Mr. Trump telephoned Mr. Comey to reiterate that the Ritz-Carlton story was false. Mr. Comey, who would be fired by Mr. Trump months later, told the president that he was not under investigation.
During several congressional hearings, Mr. Comey has declined to discuss how the FBI used the dossier to investigate Russian interference.
A day after BuzzFeed posted the dossier, President-elect Trump told reporters that the story about the prostitutes wasn’t true.
“Does anyone really believe that story?” he said. “I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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