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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
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(THREAD) It's time to talk about Nastya Rybka—the sex worker from Belarus who has plausibly claimed to have intel on Trump's ties to the Kremlin and is seeking asylum to tell her story. No longer a sideshow, this developing story is now in major media. Hope you'll read and share.
NOTES/ (1) We don't know if Rybka's claims are true—but we *do* know there's sufficient indicia of reliability in her statements to warrant a serious investigation; (2) this story is another example of the media underestimating the importance of women in the Trump-Russia probe.
1/ Understand that what Rybka appears to be claiming knowing of are two key facets of the Trump-Russia probe: (1) whether the Kremlin has compromising video of Trump from the Ritz Moscow; (2) whether Manafort was used by Trump as a backchannel to the Kremlin (via Oleg Deripaska).
2/ Let's take the second claim first, and look at the situation as a criminal investigator would. First, we'd want to confirm Rybka knows Deripaska, let alone anything about clandestine behavior on his part. The answer to this is a clear YES: they're on video frolicking together.
3/ Second, we'd want to know if there's any evidence Rybka has access to Deripaska's secrets. Again, the answer is a clear YES: they look to have had a romantic relationship, and the Kremlin has now banned a video of them together—suggesting they're worried about the association.
4/ More than this, it's the *content* of the Rybka-Deripaska video—unearthed by Alexei Navalny—that's telling: Deripaska is heard discussing U.S.-Russia relations with a Kremlin agent, and other apparently secret (or secretive) topics. So clearly Rybka had access to such talks.
5/ We also might look at third parties and ask, "How worried do they seem to be about her"? The answer here, again, is a YES—as in, *yes*, they're worried. Besides the Kremlin's video-banning, we can note that Rybka's arrest and detention has occurred under strange circumstances.
6/ A powerful Kremlin figure is in Thailand to discuss "Russian tourists" at the same time a Russian tourist who potentially has intel damaging to the Kremlin is arrested by Thai authorities on a charge that would normally not be something Thai police would worry about? Uh, okay.
7/ And you're telling me that the penalty for conviction for the exceedingly minor offense this Kremlin-threatening Russian tourist in Thailand was arrested for is to be *immediately turned over to Russian authorities*?

Look—all this would make any investigator's eyebrow raise.
8/ The point here is *not* that we know whether something untoward is happening—we do *not*. But that's not how investigation works. Investigation works on a "reasonable suspicion" basis, as in, "Do I have a *reasonable suspicion* that something untoward might be happening here?"
9/ Finally, we have to note that the people on the receiving end of this treatment—who have information we don't have on many fronts (the Kremlin's predilections, the info they themselves do/don't have, how Thai police would normally act)—all believe that they have been targeted.
10/ So if Rybka's present claim is, I have secrets about Oleg Deripaska and the Kremlin is upset about it, YES, we have some indicia of reliability that would suggest to the average criminal investigator that they should have a "reasonable suspicion" this claim could be accurate.
11/ How about the *other* side of things on this first aspect of the Rybka claim—the Manafort side of the Manafort-Deripaska connection? In other words, do we have evidence that Manafort could have or would have coordinated with Deripaska as to the Trump campaign? Uh, YES, we do.
12/ It's not just that Manafort used to work for Deripaska; it's not just that he still owes Deripaska money and—because Deripaska could be dangerous—still needs to repay that debt with money or favors; it's that Manafort is *known* to have made *just such an offer* to Deripaska.
13/ As media has reported, in Summer 2016, while he was Trump's Campaign Manager, Manafort used an intermediary to offer his old boss—to whom he owed a good deal of money—private, clandestine briefings on Trump-Russia policy (recall Deripaska talking U.S.-Russia policy on video).
14/ Note: an investigator would—excuse my language—give zero f*cks that Manafort and Deripaska have denied such briefings took place. Police give *zero* weight to a defendant's denials unless they have *significant* indicia of reliability (i.e., outside evidence to support them).
15/ There's *no* evidence indicating that Manafort and Deripaska did *not* have contact during the campaign, and ample evidence that they were inclined to do so and likely did. Moreover, there's a reasonable basis to think Trump would have known about such contacts. I'll explain.
16/ Manafort was Trump's Campaign Manager—a relationship of trust and candid communication. Trump had known Manafort for years—Manafort literally lives in Trump's building with Trump. Trump chose Manafort as his Campaign Manager *knowing* of his shady Russia-Ukraine associations.
17/ Moreover, after those associations blew up in Trump's face once they became public—leading to him "firing" (not really) Manafort—Trump continued to have a *clandestine relationship with Manafort* in which Manafort continued to be (as he previously had been) an unpaid advisor.
18/ But wait—there's more. NBC recently reported that Trump has privately told friends that Manafort could take him down—suggesting he *did* have the sort of relationship with Manafort in which damaging secrets were shared and not-quite-on-the-level schemes coordinated/executed.
19/ So yes, this side of Rybka's story also makes a great deal of sense: her closeness with Deripaska and his secrets *could* have given her access to the details of a Trump-Manafort-Kremlin association, conspiracy, and plot. Any investigator would want to look further into this.
20/ What of the other half of Rybka's claimed intelligence: information about Trump and Kremlin-provided escorts at the Ritz Moscow in November 2013? Once again, we find significant indicia of reliability attendant to her account in the public record, so we'd want to investigate.
21/ First, you have to forget what you have *not* been reading in U.S. media—which has completely avoided the Ritz Moscow story—because highly reliable foreign media have done a *ton* to underscore how likely this supposedly "salacious" aspect of the Steele Dossier is to be true.
22/ First, we'd want to ask whether it's likely such a video exists—and then, second, whether *if* it exists, it's likely that Rybka would have knowledge of it. The first is a clear YES, and the second an only slightly less strong YES. (I'll explain both parts of that statement.)
23/ In January 2017, the CIA confirmed to the BBC that a "tape of a sexual nature" from the Ritz Moscow exists, and Trump is on it. The CIA also said more than one U.S. ally's intel agency has the same information. This is a pretty promising start to answering our first question.
24/ The Steele Dossier—written by a former top MI6 operative considered that agency's primary Russia expert—used reliable MI6-derived Russian sources to confirm that the event occurred. The information is said to have come from both a Trump confidant *and* a Ritz Moscow employee.
25/ More: the Guardian and two other UK media outlets have one reliable source—but not yet the three they'd like—saying that they spoke to a Trump Org employee who was at the Ritz Moscow at the time and saw a fracas in the Ritz lobby about women being allowed up to Trump's room.
26/ That Trump Org employee has, per this reliable UK source, spoken to Mueller.

Moreover, the BBC has written of an American hotel guest at the Ritz Moscow who has confirmed the same information about a "fracas" in the Ritz Moscow lobby over women going up to Trump's room.
27/ Then there's Kata Sarka—Miss Hungary 2013—who says Trump propositioned her to go to his hotel room for sex on the very night he says he was being exceedingly cautious about not doing anything untoward in his room. That's one of many lies Trump has told about the Ritz Moscow.
28/ Trump has at some point lied about *every aspect* of his Moscow trip—how long it was, who he was with, what business was or was not conducted, how much he and his pageant were paid to take the trip, who he spoke with or didn't—which suggests he has something to hide about it.
29/ We also know Trump has a modus operandi of inviting women to hotel rooms for sexual exploits; a modus operandi of being careless as to when/how he does so; a modus operandi of being *successfully blackmailed* when it happens; a modus operandi of asking others to lie for him.
30/ And lie they did/have: Michael Cohen lied about paying off Stormy Daniels, and Keith Schiller clearly lied about how he conducted himself as Trump's bodyguard at the Ritz Moscow in November '13—saying he left Trump's door entirely unguarded after receiving a prostitute offer.
31/ Trump claims he and Schiller well knew that his room at the Ritz Moscow was being recorded, so when Schiller got an offer of Russian prostitutes for Trump, he knew a blackmail attempt was afoot.

The chance he left Trump's door unattended that night is literally zero—*zero*.
32/ Schiller now says he couldn't say whether prostitutes came to Trump's room that night. But we know they were offered; and many witnesses saw them; and Trump's entourage had ready access to them through entourage member Klyushin and his brothel-owning pal, Kremlin agent Rykov.
33/ And we know that Trump has lied about everything relating to that night and that the specific allegations in Steele's dossier—that Trump wanted to watch Russian women defile a bed Obama slept in—is exactly in keeping with Trump's psyche and his seething hatred for the Obamas.
34/ So YES, Mueller's team—I say with confidence—believes it likely such a tape exists. (For all the foregoing reasons, and *also* because many Russian journalists have confirmed for U.S. journalists that such a recording would be Putin's M.O. for a high-value target like Trump.)
35/ So the question is whether Rybka would *know* the women who went to Trump's room—or know those who know the women and could act as witnesses for Mueller in trying to access those women. Here, again, we get a reasonably strong YES for reasons you can probably already guess at.
36/ Simply put, Rybka is a high-end Moscow sex worker whose clients are major oligarchs; any Moscow sex worker sent to Trump's room would likewise be a high-end sex worker whose clients are major oligarchs. Rybka would have Kremlin ties, just as these women—via Rykov—would have,
37/ But media has also spoken to an anonymous source in the Moscow sex-worker industry, and that source has said that it is commonly understood among sex workers in the Moscow sex-worker industry that this event (actually not so surprising for Putin *or* Trump) did in fact occur.
38/ (I want to be candid and say I have lost my cite for that last claim: I had it, stored it, confirmed it was from a reliable outlet, and I then somehow misplaced it—for which I'm suitably embarrassed. Hopefully someone can assist me here—as I've *no doubt* this report exists.)
39/ So the premise that Rybka would know these women—or know those who know them—is a YES in terms of "reasonable suspicion." An average criminal investigator would reasonably suspect that Rybka does now or did at one point have access to these women or associates of these women.
40/ Another level of analysis such an investigator might employ is to ask what motive Rybka would have to lie about this—and concurrent with that assessment, what possible consequences she could reasonably fear were she to lie about this. That analysis *also* points toward truth.
41/ Consider: Rybka is in a Thai prison. Let's say she's *lying*. If so, one of two things will happen—she'll get deported back to Russia and face dire consequences for lying, or she'll get rescued by the Americans, we'll discover she's lying, and then we'll deport her to Russia.
42/ Either way, Rybka ends up in Russia as an enemy of the state. And remember, too, that it *couldn't* be fear of her Thai charges that is animating Rybka, as per media reports the only likely penalty for those charges is (wait for it) deportation back to Russia. So—same ending.
43/ What's *possible* is that Rybka fears Deripaska's wrath—a reasonable fear!—and is avoiding Russia for that reason. Two problems with that: (1) Deripaska has already said he's suing her, so *killing* her would bring law enforcement down on him; (2) she still ends up in Russia.
44/ That is, if she gets to America (or the soil of some U.S. ally) under an asylum bid and it turns out she was simply lying to everyone to avoid Deripaska, she's still likely to end up back in Russia as an enemy of Deripaska *and* the Kremlin. So she really gains nothing there.
45/ My read of the situation is this—and it's a reasonable middle ground between all possibilities (or possibly *too* cautious): Rybka has *something* of value to offer; the only question is going to be whether the value of the evidence is as great as Mueller might want it to be.
46/ On the "high" end of how this could work out for Mueller or other investigators, Rybka is Deep Throat.

On the "low" end of how this could work out, Rybka is making everything up just to become such a well-known figure that the Kremlin and Deripaska can't *risk* killing her.
47/ What's clear is that an investigative analysis of the situation, of Rybka, and of the potential benefit to the Mueller investigation is that ideally it would find a way to ensure Rybka's safety sufficiently to get a basic proffer from her. But doing so could prove impossible.
48/ I have no idea whatsoever how Mueller would go about trying to convince the U.S. to intercede in this situation—especially when the investigation's primary target is the President of the United States, who presumably would have some say or influence over the asylum decision.
49/ What Mueller can certainly do is reverse the process: try to coax evidence from Rybka now, in Thailand, while she's in dire straits, and then use that evidence as a grounds to force U.S. officials (or, via the U.S. government, an ally's officials) to assist Rybka in some way.
50/ And what U.S. media can do is learn to better assess the investigative foundations of potential news stories—in so doing seeing that the indicia of reliability in Rybka's case are sufficient to report the hell out of this situation. Because it's big news no matter what. {end}
PS/ For those who don't follow Trump-Russia news widely outside of Twitter, be aware of—and comforted by—the fact that, as a quick Google search can confirm, this story *has* started to get major international news coverage by CNN and others.

So no, this isn't a "fringe" topic.
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