President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations.
Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it’s substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.
Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide to-the-minute details, from wheels down to departure. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture a mere 45 hours and 43 minutes that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.
Neither the White House nor Trump Organization immediately responded to requests for comment.
According to Comey’s accounts of his 2017 meetings with the president, Trump said the Moscow trip was so quick that his head never hit a pillow -- even for one night. Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017.
The first denial came over dinner at the White House in late January 2017. “He said he arrived in the morning, did events, then showered and dressed for the pageant at the hotel," and then left for the event, Comey wrote. “Afterwards, he returned only to get his things because they departed for New York by plane that same night."
On the second occasion in February 2017, Trump “explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn’t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip," Comey wrote.
A reconstruction of events shows the future U.S. president’s journey to Moscow began in North Carolina, where he attended a birthday tribute to evangelist Billy Graham on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. While flight records show Trump’s own Cessna jet headed back to New York that night from Asheville, North Carolina, Trump himself apparently wasn’t aboard.
Instead, Trump flew to Moscow on a Bombardier Global 5000 private jet owned by Phil Ruffin, his partner in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Las Vegas, the New York Times reported in January 2017. Trump’s use of Ruffin’s jet is also reported in the newly published book, “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump," by Michael Isikoff and David Corn.
The jet -- tail number N443PR -- had flown from Las Vegas to Asheville on Nov. 6, according to the flight records, which Bloomberg purchased from FlightAware, an aviation data company. The flight records don’t say who was aboard the jet, which took off from Asheville at 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7, bound for Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport.
At the Ritz
The Bombardier jet landed in Moscow at 6:15 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 8. From Vnukovo airport, it’s less than an hour’s drive to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where Trump stayed, according to the pageant’s host, developer Aras Agalarov.
Trump surfaced online later that day in a Facebook post by the restaurant Nobu Moscow. That night he attended a birthday party for Agalarov.
The next day, Saturday, Nov. 9, Facebook posts showed Trump at the Ritz during the day, and in the afternoon he tweeted that he’d gotten a tour of Moscow. That evening, he attended the Miss Universe pageant, followed by an after-party whose scheduled start time was 1 a.m. -- by that time, Sunday, Nov. 10.
At this point, the flight records support a narrow slice of what Trump told Comey: On the night of the pageant itself, the plane Trump was said to be using didn’t fully overnight in Russia. Ruffin’s Bombardier took off from Vnukovo airport at 3:58 a.m. Moscow time, the records show.
When the jet touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport, just outside New York City, it was still Sunday morning -- 4:11 a.m. local time. That evening, Trump tweeted about his return, “I just got back from Russia-learned lots & lots. Moscow is a very interesting and amazing place!"