During today’s joint press conference between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, one fearless reporter asked Putin if he had any “compromising material” on Trump. As TPM’s Kate Riga writes, that was a clear allusion to the so-called “pee tape,” alleged in the Steele dossier.
Trump’s supposed liaison with prostitutes documented on the pee tape supposedly occurred in November 2013, when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. In response to the reporter’s question today, Putin said “when President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”
That response goes against quite a bit of reporting on what happened back in 2013. First and foremost, Trump reportedly invited Putin to the pageant himself. In March of this year, The Washington Post reported:
Donald Trump was so eager to have Vladimir Putin attend the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow that he wrote a personal letter to the Russian president inviting him to the event, according to multiple people familiar with the document.
The Post continued that the letter “has been turned over to investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.”
It’s unclear whether Putin received the invitation. Perhaps it got lost in the mail. But Trump’s desire to meet Putin was no secret.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
According to other reports, Putin wasn’t just personally invited to the Miss Universe Pageant — for awhile, it looked as if he might attend. Reporters David Corn and Michael Isikoff tell part of the story in their book “Russian Roulette”: Trump had been anxiously waiting for Putin to show up at the pageant when he received a call from Putin’s spokesperson and right-hand man, Dmitry Peskov. Corn and Isikoff write:
Trump and Peskov spoke for a few minutes. Afterward, Trump recounted the conversation to Goldstone. Peskov, he said, was apologetic. Putin very much wanted to meet Trump. But there was a problem nobody had anticipated: a Moscow traffic jam. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands were in town, and Putin was obligated to meet them at the Kremlin. But the royal couple had gotten stuck in traffic and was late, making it impossible for the Russian president to find time for Trump. Nor would he be able to attend the Miss Universe pageant that evening.
Putin wanted to make amends, though. Peskov conveyed an invitation for Trump to attend the upcoming Olympics, where perhaps he and Putin could then meet. He also told Trump that Putin would be sending a high-level emissary to the evening’s event—Vladimir Kozhin, a senior Putin aide. And, Peskov told Trump, Putin had a gift for him.
Trump repeatedly claimed during the Miss Universe Pageant and in the years that followed that he had a relationship with Putin, and, at times, even claimed he had met him. On the campaign trail in June 2016, however, he changed his tone. “I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said.
The nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin before they met publicly for the first time in July 2017 remains unclear. But it does seem extremely unlikely that Putin did not know that Trump was in Moscow four years earlier.