The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s denials that he stayed overnight in Russia are falling apart

Donald Trump poses next to Miss Venezuela, Gabriela Isler, in Moscow on Nov. 9, 2013. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)
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This post has been updated with the correct timeline.

Those around President Trump have made a disconcerting habit of forgetting, obscuring or misremembering their contacts with Russians. Now it seems the boss may have some explaining to do, too.

Bloomberg is reporting that flight records contradict Trump's apparent claim to then-FBI Director James B. Comey that he didn't stay overnight in Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. This is at issue, of course, because that's when a claim in the Steele dossier alleges that Trump watched Russian prostitutes urinate on a bed in a video the Russian government is holding as compromising material, or kompromat, on Trump. Trump was so insistent that the claim was baseless that he twice told Comey he didn't even spend a night in Moscow, according to Comey.

But Trump's timeline is now in serious doubt, if not obliterated. According to Bloomberg, the jet owned by Trump's business partner Phil Ruffin departed Asheville, N.C., for Moscow on a Thursday night and arrived Friday in Moscow*. It left Moscow in the wee hours of Sunday morning at 3:58 a.m.

Given that there was a Miss Universe party after the pageant, it seems Trump may not have slept that evening in Moscow. But he does appear to have been in Moscow overnight between Friday and Saturday.

It has been reported before, based on a longtime aide's testimony and social media postings, that Trump appeared to have spent two nights in Moscow — including by Bloomberg last year. But this is the first time it has been substantiated by flight records.

From there, the question is whether Trump is caught in a lie, whether he mistakenly forgot about staying the previous night, or whether Comey misunderstood what Trump told him.

Here's how the Comey memos described Trump's claims, first after his Jan. 28, 2017, dinner with Trump:

He said he had spoken to people who had been on the Miss Universe trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn’t stay overnight in Russia for that. He said he arrived in the morning, did events, then showered and dressed for the pageant at the hotel (he didn’t say the hotel name) and left for the pageant. Afterward, he returned only to get his things because they departed for New York by plane that same night.

And here's what Comey said of another meeting on Feb. 8:

The president brought up the ‘Golden Showers thing’ and said it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it. He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn’t stayed overnight in Russia.

The Steele dossier, for what it's worth, does not name a specific night on which the encounter occurred, so it wouldn't seem to matter whether Trump didn't stay specifically on Saturday. And Trump seemed to deny staying in Moscow any night.

It's possible Comey misunderstood him, but getting it wrong twice — for someone with law enforcement training — would seem unlikely. Part of Comey's job, after all, was to parse what people say.

The question from there is, if Trump was misrepresenting his travels, why? Did he simply remember his hasty exit in the early-morning hours after the pageant and forget about the preceding night? Was he just playing fast and loose in what he thought was a private conversation?  Or did he actually have something to hide? (As Comey noted in his book, though, staying overnight doesn't even matter when it comes to the underlying allegation, which could logically have occurred at any point.)

All we know for now is that there's a disconnect, and it's one that probably deserves to be addressed.

* Flight records obtained by Bloomberg initially listed 6:15 a.m. Friday is the landing time, but that is actually the same as the departure time from Asheville (adjusted for time zones). The Bloomberg story has been corrected. Politico is also now reporting, based on flight records, that Trump's plane landed in Moscow on Friday and departed early Sunday morning.