Throughout President Donald Trump's term, it has sometimes seemed as if the world chronicled in the tabloids has invaded the corridors of power in Washington.
Trump's alleged affairs with a pornographic film star and a former Playboy bunny have become national news, joined by figures from publications typically more associated with supermarket checkout lines than the White House briefing room.
This week, Kristin M. Davis, a former high-class procuress from New York, is set to become a witness for the federal prosecutors who are looking into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
If you have been wondering about how Davis found herself enmeshed in the Russia investigation, here are a few answers to some questions you may have.
Who is Kristin Davis?
A former finance worker and a twice-failed candidate for elected office, Davis, 43, is perhaps best known as the "Manhattan Madam" — a name used to describe her by The New York Post and The Daily News, for whom she offered tantalising grist at the height of her fame in the early 2000s. After serving in the back office at a hedge fund, Davis tried her hand at a more lucrative venture: running an escort service that she called "Wicked Models."
In the years she ran her business, she and the city's gossip pages claimed, without much in the way of corroborating evidence, that she had furnished prostitutes to a list of famous men, including Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor who resigned his post after The New York Times reported that he was a patron of a different escort service. In 2008, Davis was charged with money laundering and promoting prostitution and spent four months in jail on Rikers Island.
Two years after finishing her sentence, Davis, a self-described Libertarian, ran for New York governor as a protest candidate on a platform touting the legalisation of pot and prostitution. She was advised in her campaign by Roger J. Stone Jr., a veteran Republican strategist whom she had known for years. In 2013, Davis ran for a different office — New York City comptroller — challenging, of all opponents, Spitzer. She withdrew from the race a month before the election after she was arrested for a second time on federal charges of illegally selling prescription drugs like Adderall and Xanax.
What is her connection to the Russia investigation?
Prosecutors have not said what information they think Davis can provide about ties between Russia and Trump's presidential bid, but one obvious nexus between Davis and the president is Stone, who served them both as a political strategist over the years.
Last week, according to people familiar with the case, Davis traveled to Washington for an interview with prosecutors from the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. In a rapidly unfolding development that seemed to suggest investigators were eager to get her testimony on the record, she is expected to appear Friday before a federal grand jury hearing evidence in the case.
Prosecutors rarely talk about their interviews with investigative subjects, and grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret. Last month, Davis told The New York Times that she had no idea what Mueller planned to ask her, but there is little doubt that one potential topic is Davis' long association with Stone.
Why does Roger Stone matter to the Russia inquiry?
A self-described "dirty trickster" with a career in politics that reaches back decades to his work as a teenager for Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President, Stone has been a longtime adviser to Trump. It is in that role that he has found himself in the cross hairs of Mueller's inquiry.
In March 2017, for instance, Stone acknowledged that before the 2016 election he traded private messages with Guccifer 2.0, the mysterious online avatar that was instrumental in helping WikiLeaks release internal emails and other political documents that eventually proved damaging to Hillary Clinton's presidential bid and to the Democratic Party.
In an indictment unsealed last month, Mueller charged that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a front for Russian intelligence officers. The indictment also said that a person "in regular contact with senior members" of Trump's campaign had communicated with Guccifer 2.0. Government officials have identified that person as Stone.
Though Stone has downplayed his ties to Guccifer 2.0 as minimal and innocuous, media organizations have reported that he was also in direct communication with WikiLeaks in the weeks before the election, despite his assertions to the contrary. In February, The Atlantic published an article that included screenshots of private messages that Stone swapped with a Twitter account for WikiLeaks, a development that seemed at odds with a statement Stone gave to Congress in September when he claimed that he had communicated with the group only through an intermediary.
What further light can Davis shed on Stone's activities?
It's hard to say at this point, but Davis may be able to help investigators sort through Stone's confusing and complicated ties to the two entities — WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 — that are at the center of the hacking of Democratic emails and political documents, and their subsequent leak to the public.
Davis is close enough to Stone that, by his own account, he is the godfather of her son. And beyond the work he did for her during her run for governor, Stone employed her, on and off, for years, as an assistant in his office. Davis also has ties to one of Stone's close aides, Andrew Miller, who served as her campaign manager when she ran for governor. Miller has himself been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in the Russia investigation.
Stone has nonetheless claimed Davis is unlikely to be helpful to Mueller. "She knows nothing about Russian collusion," he said last week.
What does all of this mean for the larger investigation?
If Stone is ultimately charged with a crime, it would mean another person close to Trump had been felled by Mueller's investigation. But beyond Stone's actions, prosecutors are presumably also interested in what Trump knew about the hacks and leaks and when he knew it. Stone might be a key witness.
Last month's indictment, for example, revealed that the first time Russian hackers, operating as Guccifer 2.0, tried to break into the servers of Clinton's personal offices was on July 27, 2016. That was the same day that Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack Clinton's emails.
"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said that day during a news conference in Florida.
Is it possible that the former madam of a high-end escort service (who, like Trump, was long a fixture of New York's gossip pages) might have information touching on the country's national security?
Only time will tell.
- New York Times