For better or worse, James B. Comey's new book has forced us to talk about an allegation involving President Trump and urinating Russian prostitutes. It'd be better if we didn't dwell upon it.
The Steele dossier's allegation that Trump watched prostitutes, uh, micturate upon themselves in a Moscow hotel room — and the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using it as kompromat against Trump — is kibble for Trump's opponents. Until this week, though, it had largely been relegated to social media jokes and an occasional glancing reference on cable news.
But just like Trump's use of a profanity to describe African nations — and the largely uncorroborated Steele dossier itself — the allegation has been pushed into the mainstream. According to Comey, Trump is fixated upon it. He wrote that Trump devoted a fair amount of time arguing to him that it wasn't true, even asking Comey to launch an investigation to disprove it.
Comey's recounting has even led New York magazine's Jonathan Chait to declare himself a “peeliever,” a term that probably describes a growing number of Americans right now who think Trump's reaction to the book lends credence to the allegation.
This detail is salacious and a great way to sell books, and it's probably worth noting that the president is somewhat consumed by this. But it's difficult to think of a bigger distraction from the very serious issues raised by the Russia investigation — for Trump, for his opponents and for the media. This remains a claim that is still without basically any corroboration, and the idea that it's true because Trump complains about it is fanciful.
Let's just say, for argument's sake, that the dossier's claim is true. This is a president whose past infidelity is well-known and has been alleged in the past several months to have engaged in two other affairs — one with a porn star and one with a Playboy Playmate. In each of these cases, the women were paid for their silence in ways that may or may not be connected to Trump personally. This is also a president who in the past joked about how dodging sexually transmitted diseases was his own personal “Vietnam.”
Was the idea that Trump had this alleged encounter with prostitutes really going to affect views of him? The idea that this is the thing Putin is holding over his head doesn't quite register. It may be even further beyond the pale than other allegations made against Trump, but it's hardly the kind of thing his base would be unable to look past.
But, advocates of taking the allegations seriously will argue, what about the fact that Trump seems to be so worried about it? Doesn't that suggest it could be used as kompromat? To which I say: Come on. This is a president who demonstrates his thin skin regularly. He has a tendency to fixate on things like this.
This is also a president who has shown he doesn't exactly like to talk about his alleged infidelity. While he hits back at pretty much anyone who attacks him, he hasn't done so with Stormy Daniels. And as Comey writes, Trump seemed genuinely concerned about what his wife would think of the dossier's claim.
There are much worse allegations in that Steele dossier, including the newly substantiated claim about Michael Cohen visiting Prague. This one just happens to be the most personal, and it's understandable why you'd react negatively to such an allegation being made against you.
And even if you disagree with all of that, there's this: It's counterproductive for Trump's opponents. What better way to make it look like you are willing to believe the worst thing about Trump at all times? What better way for Trump to argue that his opponents are frivolously focused on using whatever rumor and innuendo they can find against him, no matter how over-the-top and evidence-free?
Comey put this out there, and I understand why; Trump allegedly complained about it, and that may say something about Trump. The jokes were probably never going to stop, but that doesn't mean it's productive for anyone involved. Let's wait until we have real evidence beyond Trump's thin skin.