This morning, idiots in urban centers across the country gathered in bars, cafes, and office break rooms to watch the Senate testimony of former FBI director James Comey, who had been called to discuss his firing following an investigation into potential collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. We watched because we hoped Comey’s answers would be fun and salacious, or that he’d say something to the effect that Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but also for a more specific reason. We hoped against hope, in the dankest and yellowest chambers of our hearts, to learn something–anything at all, please–about the pee tape. We got a teensy little trickle, but a meaningful one nonetheless.
Let’s rewind, briefly, to January, when BuzzFeed published a dossier detailing alleged Trump-Russia connections that had been compiled by a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, and was circulating privately among members of the media and government at the time. Tucked in amongst a lot of boring stuff about allegedly corrupt real estate dealings was one irresistible piece of information. Let’s revisit the pee tape passage, directly from the dossier itself, just for old times’ sake:
However, there were other aspects of TRUMP’s engagement to the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (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 to.
The existence of the pee tape, like everything else in the dossier, was unproven at the time, and efforts to prove its existence in the months since then have been fruitless. In his prewritten opening statement to today’s hearing, Comey practically begged to be asked about the P.T., referencing the “salacious material” contained in the dossier two separate times, once alleging that Trump was “considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”
There were some big revelations from the hearing this morning, though no senator asked about the pee tape directly. Comey said that he’d helped arrange for one of his memos about a meeting with Trump to be provided to a reporter because he wanted to usher along the appointment of a special council to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, indicating his own high level of concern about the allegations. He accused the president of lying about him and the state of the F.B.I. He said he hoped that his conversations with Trump–in which the president may have asked him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia inquiry and spare resigned national security advisor Michael Flynn from further investigation–were recorded, because he was confident that his side of the story would be proven true.
The closest we got to the tape was a question early in the hearing about the contents of the dossier in general. “At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?” Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) asked. “Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation,” Comey asked. That’s not a confirmation, but it’s not a denial either.
And as Harvard law professor and columnist Noah Feldman at Bloomberg points out, Comey’s testimony may open a new path for the special counsel to investigate the dossier’s claims. In the opening statement, the former F.B.I. director claimed that Trump had flatly stated to him that he “had nothing to do with Russia” and “had not been involved with hookers in Russia.” Under federal law, it’s a crime to lie to a representative of the U.S. government. There’s no evidence to show that Trump actually was lying. But according to Feldman, “the statements alone, coupled with the dossier that contradicts them, provide sufficient reason for [special counsel Robert Mueller] to extend his investigation to consider Trump’s own Russia related conduct — including the information discussed in the dossier.” And while Mueller is broadly authorized to investigate Russian influence on the election, it’s unclear whether he would have previously considered Trump’s 2013 Moscow trip, during which the pee tape was allegedly recorded, to be within his jurisdiction. Now, Feldman argues, with the potentiality of a crime committed during the president’s meeting with Comey, the trip is clearly within his purview.
And any investigation into the Russia trip could yield new information about the pee tape. The dream is alive, my friends.