Cockburn has learnt the hard way to take Trump-Russia stories with a pinch of salt. But there’s long been speculation that Russia was interested in the Donald as far back as 1996 and that’s been rekindled by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on ‘collusion’. On page 650 of this thousand-page doorstop of a report, the committee says that Trump went to a party at the Kempinski hotel on a visit to Moscow in 1996 and: ‘at the party, Trump may have begun a brief relationship with a Russian woman named XXXX XXXX.’ The name is of course redacted.
The report says that Trump may have met the woman again when she came to New York two years later. It quotes a Russian newspaper story as saying he welcomed a number of guests to an event in New York ‘among whom was the charming XXXX XXXX, “Miss Moscow”…Trump recalled that two years ago, during his stay in Moscow, [she] was for him the most beautiful hostess of the capital, whose charms were not overshadowed even by Claudia Schiffer and Tina Turner, who lived in the same hotel. He recalled with pleasure the excellent company with which he spent time in Moscow.’
The lady in question was interviewed later, in 2007, by another Russian newspaper quoted in the report. She was asked about her friendships and replied at length, though enigmatically: ‘With some I was briefly met by chance, while others there was a much longer relationship due to mutual affection. For example, Trump is a person who I like very much. I cannot call him a friend, because we do not call up and do not meet daily, but perhaps we would live in the same city (I am in New York or he would be in Los Angeles), we would communicate more closely. Let’s just say we are on a friendly footing.’
The committee helpfully includes some photographs from the trip on which Trump met this former Miss Moscow. The first photo does not show the lady in question – that’s the man on the right’s wife — and the committee does not identify the woman in the second, black and white, photo:
However, the author Michael Weiss has done some remarkable detective work and, putting together clues from the footnotes in the Senate report, has concluded that the woman in question is Masha Kalinina, Miss Moscow-88.
Weiss also says that the unidentified Russian language newspaper the committee quotes from is Kommersant. The newspaper’s reporting is a goldmine of Trumpisms. In 1998, its reporter Galina Galkina visited Trump in his suite at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. ‘Trump wore a white t-shirt, white sneakers and beige pants. Reddish hair, an unreadable face, hard blue eyes…’ Galina Galkina had some hardball questions for Trump. Are you satisfied with the career of your daughter Ivanka? ‘Very. She is 16 years old and is already listed as a supermodel. But most of all I am pleased with her successful studies at school. At one time, I was also a good student. Ivanka takes after me.’
Intriguingly, there was already, in 1998, a question about whether there would be a Trump Tower Moscow. Remember Trump’s statement at his first news conference as President that he had ‘stayed away’ from deals in Russia? In 1998, he said: ‘I am currently negotiating about this. And by the way, for the next trip to Russia I want to learn a little Russian. I hope Masha will help me.’ The report in Kommersant continues: ‘Taking Masha Kalinina by the arm, he led us through the casino hall to the pool. This was beautiful. Wreaths were laid on our heads, spotlights lit our path, and dozens of stunning women resignedly parted before us. Oh, what a passage it was!’
This trip was in one of Trump’s more playboy phases, after his separation from his second wife Marla Maples but long before he met Melania, the now First Lady.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report also addresses another story about Trump in Moscow — that on one of his trips, he brazenly brought two prostitutes to a meeting with Russian officials. This was, supposedly, the talk of Moscow’s American expat community. One witness testifies that Trump ‘had a meeting in the Moscow mayor’s office and he showed up with two beautiful young women on his arm, and people thought that was kind of strange. A, that he was with them, and B, that he hadn’t just left them wherever he met them.’ The report goes on, quoting another witness: ‘The implication of his story was that [Trump] had spent the night with these two women and showed up at this first meeting the next day.’
Trump was in Moscow to ‘negotiate real-estate deals’. If the story about bringing hookers to meetings with officials is true, perhaps this was just good business, his way of paying his hosts a compliment. After all, Vladimir Putin likes to boast that Russian prostitutes are ‘the best in the world’. Putin made that statement — characteristically thuggish and in bad taste — at a news conference in which he rubbished claims that he had sexual kompromat – compromising material — on Trump. Putin was attempting to dismiss the story that Trump had been filmed by the Kremlin watching hookers urinate on a bed in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow. ‘He arrived here and immediately ran off to meet Moscow prostitutes? This is an adult and, moreover, a man who for many years has organized beauty contests. He socialized with the most beautiful women in the world. I can hardly imagine he rushed to the hotel to meet our girls of lower social responsibility — even though they are the best in the world, of course.’
So Putin’s argument is that Trump would not have used prostitutes in Moscow because, as patron of the Miss Universe beauty contest, he was used to being around attractive women — and would have quite happily ignored them. But while Cockburn would never dream of impugning the character of a former Miss Moscow, if Masha Kalinina did have a close relationship with the future Commander-in-Chief, that would somewhat undermine Putin’s point. Once again, Cockburn is left to wonder about Trump’s Russian history.