Revisiting the Golden Showers

When BuzzFeed broke the media blackout on January 10th and published the Christopher Steele dossier on Donald Trump, the headlines were all focused on the most salacious allegation it contained. It’s worth revisiting that allegation because it’s been mischaracterized from the very beginning.

Steele’s topline allegation was that a “Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP [whose] conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.”

The FSB is the Foreign Security Service of the Russian Federation, which is the rough equivalent of our own CIA. There was quite a bit more detail in the dossier. Specifically, the story went that in 2013 Trump rented the “presidential suite” in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow because he knew that Barack and Michelle Obama had stayed in that room once while visiting Russia. While he has renting the suite, he hired prostitutes to “defile” the bed in which the Obamas had slept by urinating on each other while he watched. Trump distracted from the allegation about his motivation by arguing that he was too much of a germaphobe to allow women to pee on him, but the dossier specifically said that he was not an active participant in the “golden showers.” It did suggest that this was a sexual perversion that Trump was acting out, but the reason given for him instigating this act was less sexual than some kind of twisted revenge (perhaps for getting humiliated by the president at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner).

Steele went to some effort to corroborate this explosive story. The part I just related was provided by Source D who was described as “a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow.” Quite a few people suspect that Source D was Boris Epshteyn who was just forced out of the White House for unspecified reasons and took a job as the “chief political analyst” for the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. That has not been confirmed.

Steele also had a Source E who told him that some Ritz Carlton staff were aware of the Trump/Golden Shower story at the time and subsequently. Source E introduced a Russian intelligence operative to Source F, a female employee at the hotel. Source F also corroborated the story. Finally (as stated at the top) Source B, who was a former high level Russian intelligence office still active in the Kremlin’s inner circles, confirmed that the government had collected enough material on Trump during his visits that they could blackmail him. Specifically, Trump had engaged in questionable sexual activity that was “arranged/monitored” by the FSB.

It was probably unfortunate that so much focus was put on the golden showers part of the dossier because it wasn’t something that could be confirmed. Yes, it’s easy to establish that the rumor went around and that many people at the Ritz Carlton believed that it occurred. It was much harder to confirm that it happened as described or that the Russians had video or audio evidence of it with which to blackmail Trump. The more important part was what Source B was confirming. Regardless of the veracity of the Ritz Carlton story, a high level Russian intelligence source was saying that the FSB had arranged/monitored sexually compromising situations for Trump.

Because the salacious golden showers story led the dossier, reporters and news organizations were reluctant to publish it. The lewdness had the tendency to discredit the entire document since it was outrageous and unconfirmed. But there were plenty of other parts of the dossier that could be falsified or verified. After some efforts to do that, the FBI was satisfied that the dossier was accurate in many respects. They used it to go to the FISA court and obtain a warrant to monitor the activities of Carter Page.

On the right, the reaction to learning that the FBI relied in part on the dossier to get a warrant on Page is to howl in outrage that they used a “fake” and “dodgy” source. On the left, the reaction is to treat this as confirmation that dossier is legit and to use that as an excuse to revisit the formerly discredited golden showers story.

I don’t think either side has it quite right.

The right was way too quick to dismiss the quality of Christopher Steele’s work. He’s a former MI6 officer who worked under diplomatic cover in Moscow and headed the Russia Desk from 2004 to 2009. He has an excellent reputation in the intelligence community. He clearly has sources and he knows how to write intelligence reports. The dossier was never a fake. It wasn’t gospel, either, nor did it purport to be accurate in every respect. But it was based on real sources, many of which were well-placed sources.

The left’s problem is different. The golden showers story may be true or may not be true. The dossier never really alleged it was true. What it said was that a source close to Trump who had managed his trips to Moscow had been telling the story. It said that the rumor was also believed and spread by people on the staff at the hotel. And it said that a highly placed Russian intelligence source did not confirm that story specifically but confirmed that the FSB had blackmail-worthy sexual material on Trump from his visits to Moscow.

I think the more Steele’s work is corroborated in general, the more we can be sure that he didn’t make things up. So, what’s more credible now is not that the golden showers took place. What’s more credible is that the rumor was real and that it was being related as true by a person very close to Trump who would be in a position to know. And it was possible to establish that people in Moscow at the hotel had heard the same story and believed it.

The thing is, what really matters is the more general question of whether Source B (the former high ranking Russian intelligence office still active in the Kremlin’s inner circles) was telling the truth when he said they had enough material on Trump to blackmail him. If that’s true, the prurient details don’t matter.

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