On Thursday morning, the world will finally hear from former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump in May as the investigation Comey was leading into Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign kicked into high gear. Comey’s explosive testimony, according to a preview of his prepared remarks that dropped Wednesday, will touch on the salacious allegations in an unverified dossier on Trump, including bizarre, unconfirmed reports the Russian government had compromising records of him consorting with “hookers in Russia” that it planned to use as leverage.
The dossier—which originated as campaign opposition research before its findings caught the attention of top national security officials—has for months been the subject of much snickering in Washington, largely disappearing under the radar after it was leaked and published in January. But the document’s inclusion in Comey’s testimony puts it back in the spotlight, firmly part of the scandal that pushed Congress and the FBI to look into whether Trump improperly and perhaps illegally interfered in the Russia investigation. Improbably, on Thursday, a conversation about “hookers in Russia” between the former FBI director and the President of the United States will be entered into the official congressional record and debated in a public hearing.
Comey confirmed in his prepared testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee what had already been widely reported: that Comey briefed President-elect Trump about the dossier in a Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier, whose reliability is still the subject of considerable debate, was compiled by a retired British intelligence officer. Comey brought it to Trump’s attention after Comey learned that Buzzfeed intended to publish the document.
“The [Intelligence community] leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified,” Comey wrote of the January meeting.
The dossier was originally commissioned by GOP donors who supported Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary. They hired the political opposition research firm Fusion GPS, who in turn hired former British intelligence operative Chris Steele to dig up dirt on Trump. After the primary, Democratic donors funded Steele so he could continue his investigation. By July of 2016, Steele became so troubled by what he allegedly uncovered—Russian attempts to manipulate a U.S. presidential candidate and his associates—that he alerted the FBI.
Many other news outlets received copies the document, but chose not to publish it. Mother Jones was the first to report on its existence in October 2016, and Buzzfeed published it in its entirety in January 2017.
Some aspects of the dossier have since been confirmed by current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials, though not its most lewd allegations about Trump’s visit to Moscow—including claims in the document that he requested “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ [urination] show in front of him.”
According to Comey, Trump brought up the dossier unprompted a few months later, calling him at the FBI in March to deny its contents: “He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia,” Comey wrote in his prepared testimony. “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud’ [over his presidency].”
Trump vented these same frustrations about the published dossier on Twitter, dismissing the document as “phony allegations” and its authors as “sleazebag political operatives.”
But with the dossier released out into the wild, members of Congress were free to comment on it and ask about it.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) mused that the allegations concerning Russian sex workers fit with his understanding of Kremlin tactics. “Everyone knows the Russians do use women and sex when people go to Russia,” he said. “It’s an old KGB honeypot.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) referenced the dossier in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, asking specifically about its allegations that people affiliated with the Trump campaign held undisclosed meetings with Russian officials. Sessions’ categorical denial—”I did not have communications with the Russians”—later turned out to be false. This was arguably the first domino to fall in the series of events that pushed Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and pushed the DOJ to appoint a special counsel.