Earlier this week, longtime Donald Trump adviser Keith Schiller told Congressional investigators that he rejected a Russian’s offer to send five women to Donald Trump’s hotel room during Trump’s 2013 visit to the country.
Schiller said in his testimony that he took the offer, which came from a man accompanying Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, as a joke. When he told Trump about it – as they retired to their rooms for the night – the real estate mogul laughed, Schiller said.
Schiller was asked about the matter during his testimony in front of the House intelligence committee because of salacious allegations made about the trip, which have not been confirmed and CNN has not reported, in a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The dossier, which was funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through their law firm, has been part of the investigation – by Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller – into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
Trump has repeatedly insisted the entire dossier – elements of which the US intelligence committee has been able to independently confirm – is fake news and garbage. But, Trump and former president Barack Obama were both briefed about the dossier’s contents in late 2016 by then-FBI director James Comey. Comey, prior to being fired by Trump in May, testified that on two separate occasions Trump denied the salacious allegations in the dossier.
So what does the Schiller revelation about the Russian offer of female companionship for Trump tell us?
About Trump, not much. He has denied the more salacious allegations in the dossier and, according to Schiller’s sworn testimony, both men took the offer as a joke.
But, I think it does tell us something important about how things work in Russia – and the country’s intentions in regard to Trump and his associates.
First, remember that the idea of “kompromat” – attempting to put targets into compromising positions to gain leverage over them – is a longtime Russian tactic.
“It is very much a part of the way Russia works, that intelligence agencies collect compromising information on individuals and that they’ll use it when it’s to their advantage,” former British Ambassador Tony Brenton told CNN back in January. (For more on “kompromat,” read this.)
Second, the offer came from someone accompanying Emin Agalarov, Schiller said, although “Emin has no knowledge of that ever happening,” according to his attorney Scott Balber.
That’s important because the pop star is the son of Aras Agalarov, a billionaire developer who is, reportedly, close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Agalarov family also has some relationship with the Trumps; it was the Agalarovs who reportedly requested the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Donald Trump Jr. was told he would be receiving negative information on Hillary Clinton.
Third, just because Schiller and Trump took the five women offer as a joke doesn’t mean that’s how it was intended. As in: The offer was a real one but, once rejected, was laughed off as a joke. Would it have been a joke if Schiller had expressed interest? Who knows.
The broader point here is that Schiller’s acknowledgment that someone seemingly associated with the Agalarovs made an offer of women to Trump through him suggests that the idea that Russia was targeting Trump isn’t just fake news.
Now, that’s something entirely – and let me say it again just for emphasis: entirely – different than Trump or anyone in his inner circle being compromised by these Russian overtures. Russia could have tried all sorts of ways to get at Trump and been unsuccessful.
But Schiller’s testimony strikes me as a confirmation that someone tried. Which is worth noting.