There are a host of revelations and confirmations in the Comey memos released yesterday evening. I want to zero in on one point: The President repeatedly and demonstrably lied about his November 2013 trip to Moscow. This is the visit in which the ‘pee tape’ was purportedly recorded. There’s no evidence in the memos that that tape exists or that the President spent the night with prostitutes. But again, he clearly and repeatedly lies about the trip itself, specifically how long he was there. This seems highly significant to me.
Let’s look at the details.
First, in his conversations with James Comey, Trump repeatedly not only denied the ‘pee tape’ accusations but he went on to say that he had not even spent the night in Russia. He apparently also told his high level staffers this. Then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was present during one of these encounters with Comey.
This first conversation is on January 28th, 2017, one week into the presidency. Trump claims he didn’t even spend the night in Russia on the Miss Universe trip. He says he arrived the morning of the day of the pageant (Saturday, November 9th) and departed late that evening.
He repeated this claim a little more than a week later (February 8th, 2013) in a conversation in which Reince Priebus was also present.
On its own this is hardly a plausible claim. A flight from Moscow to New York takes between 9 and 10 hours. The idea that you’d fly there and return the same day makes no sense. But we don’t have to rely on what makes sense.
There’s ample evidence that Trump stayed not one but two nights. In July 2017, Bloomberg News’s Vernon Silver and Evgenia Pismennaya reported out a detailed reconstruction of the trip based on FAA records, social media postings and interviews. They showed clearly that Trump flew from North Carolina to New York on the evening of November 7th (Thursday) and then proceeded on to Moscow overnight and arrived sometime early on November 8th (Friday). He overnighted in Moscow. He was in Moscow all of November 9th (Saturday), the day of the pageant, and departed for New York early November 10th. For the details of how we know these facts, see the Bloomberg article. It is forensic in its detail.
Clearly, Trump lied about not spending the night in Russia. It’s conceivable that he forgot he’d spent the night. But again, the whole idea is wildly implausible. He said he’d discussed the details of the trip with others. Surely they would have reminded him. And he stayed not one but two nights. Clearly, Trump was lying about this. He lied about it repeatedly to Comey. And Priebus’s presence during one of the encounters strongly suggests he’d told this same lie to his senior staff.
And there’s more.
In November of last year the President’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller spoke to congressional investigators about the 2013 Moscow trip and other topics. Schiller’s account makes very clear that Trump did stay overnight in Moscow. But his account was much more specific. Schiller adamantly denied Trump cavorted with prostitutes. But he did say that a Russian businessman Trump met with offered to “send five women” to Trump’s hotel room that night. According to Schiller, he rebuffed the offer and even viewed it as a “joke.” “We don’t do that type of stuff,” he says he responded.
There’s an additional detail. According to Schiller, as he was walking Trump back to his hotel room on the night in question — apparently November 9th — he mentioned the offer to Trump and the two men joked about it. Here’s the account from NBC News.
That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.
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.
Once again, Schiller said he was confident the encounter never happened. He stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a while after closing the door and then went to bed. So according to Schiller’s testimony, not only did Trump definitely stay two nights. He was told about the offer of the prostitutes before going to bed the second night. Perhaps Trump forgot about this. But it seems unlikely, especially in the context of lying about spending two nights in the Ritz-Carlton.
Conceivably, Trump was so adamant about denying the prostitute story that he poured on extra lies (not spending the night) to make his denial more plausible. But in any court, this lie would be entered as evidence of his lack of credibility on the main point. There’s zero question he lied about this repeatedly and to multiple people. You can be the judge of why.