'Fake news' from ex-MI6 man is now real trouble for Trump
President turns to old ally Rudy Giuliani after snub by law firms
Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele's dossier on Donald Trump was denounced by the US president and his supporters as fake. The investigation into Trump's Russian connections, however, has shown much of it to be true. But two notable allegations have remained unproven.
Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had vehemently denied the claim, made in the report, that he had met with Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin in Prague; insisting he had never even been to the Czech Republic. And then there was the lurid account of the US president using prostitutes while on a visit to Moscow, something he has strongly denied.
Cohen had sued Fusion GPS, an investigative firm which had commissioned Steele's report. But Cohen has now voluntarily dropped his legal action. It followed reports that US special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian links to Trump has found evidence that Cohen had, indeed, made a trip to Prague.
The claim that Trump had hired prostitutes to urinate on the hotel bed once used by Barack and Michelle Obama and the alleged filming of the same incident by Russian spies, has resurfaced in the memoirs of James Comey.
The former FBI director, who claims Trump fired him after he refused to drop the Russia inquiry, recounted the US president repeatedly bringing up, unprompted, the sex allegation - saying at one stage "there's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. I'm a germaphobe!" The theme continued, according to memos just released by Comey.
"The president said the 'hookers thing' is nonsense - but that Putin had told him 'we have the most beautiful hookers in the world'," one of the memos stated.
The memos, in which Trump was also shown to be speaking in unflattering terms about General Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser who has been subsequently charged by Mueller, were provided to Congress at the demand of House Republicans - who thought they would undermine Comey and the Trump investigation.
The consensus is that this move has turned out to be massively counter-productive.
"Honestly, I am aghast that they thought this was going to be helpful to the president and undermine Comey, therefore the FBI, therefore special counsel Mueller," said Jack Quinn, who had acted as Bill Clinton's lawyer. "I can't get over the fact that they made this calculation. I am sure the president is not going to be sitting up tonight writing thank you letters to them."
"It is the simple rule that barristers follow when questioning witnesses - you don't ask something without roughly knowing what the answer is going to be. What came out was hardly flattering for Trump."
The claim that Mueller's team has information about Cohen's visit to Prague came following a raid on his office and home by FBI agents. They were seeking information about payments made by Cohen to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who claims that she had sex with Trump. But, according to multiple sources, there was also search for material pertaining to an investigation into alleged fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and Cohen's actions while working for Trump, as well as real estate purchases by Russian buyers.
Trump denies having sex with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Cohen denies any wrongdoing.
While the Mueller investigation continues to expand, Donald Trump is facing difficulties finding lawyers to represent him. According to reports, five law firms have declined to defend the president.
Mr Trump has now turned to an old ally, Rudy Giuliani. His main role, the former New York Mayor told CNN, would be to interact with Mueller and bring things to a conclusion, as it "needs a little push".
Just prior to the election which brought Trump to power, just two days before FBI director James Comey dropped his bombshell letter saying Hilary Clinton would face a new email probe, Giuliani said: "We've got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around."
At the time many wondered just how Giuliani acquired this knowledge. Now, with the Mueller investigation going full steam, Giuliani may find his old acquaintance asking him that same question - but this time with the power to demand an answer.