There Appear to Be 4 Explanations for Sam Nunberg's Meltdown

Here's the latest on the former Trump aide who is testing Robert Mueller.

MAR 6, 2018

Like any reality show, the main requirement to get on So You Think You Can President is being a brash character who can stir up some messy drama. There is, of course, the president himself, who is not just the subject of nearly every news story, but a kind of drumbeat in our collective consciousness. Trump is always there, whether it's a story about Capitol Hill or the Oscars or the NFL. His current and former aides, from The Mooch to Omarosa, are like lesser deities in this respect: They are capable of single-handedly generating a headline avalanche and staying in the news cycle for a day or so through the sheer audacity of their behavior.

A relatively new subgenre, though, is Possibly Incriminating Yourself in the Russia Probe Live on Cable News. It was pioneered by Carter Page, the inexplicable former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who has since been dragged deep into the Russia probe. (For one thing, Russian intelligence agents long tried to recruit Page, whom they also considered an "idiot.") On Monday, we were treated to a breakout performance from Sam Nunberg, an early Trump adviser who was defenestrated from the campaign after some racist Facebook posts emerged under his name.

Nunberg announced Monday that he'd been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who requested he provide email communications with a number of Trump aides dating back to November 1, 2015, and appear before a grand jury this Friday. In an astounding media blitz encompassing two newspapers, five appearances on three TV networks, and a call with a wire service, Nunberg announced he would defy the subpoena—and then, later, that he might not. All the while, he was spilling secrets about his meetings with Mueller's team, his time on the campaign and relationships with other staffers, plus his own hunches about whether Mueller has something on the president.

Nunberg kicked things off with an interview in The Washington Post, where he first made public that it was he who'd received the subpoena, and that he'd refuse to comply.

Then, suddenly, he was on MSNBC declaring that the special counsel's request that he hoover up some emails was just too onerous to be considered:

They wanted every email I had with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. Why should I hand them emails from November 1, 2015? I was thinking about this today, Katy, I was preparing it. Should I spend 50 hours going over all my emails with Roger and with Steve Bannon?

The easiest answer is: Yes, because a federal prosecutor wielding the full power of the Department of Justice told you to.
At various points, Nunberg characterized the task as requiring 30, 50, or 80 hours. But he almost always mentioned his communications with two people in particular: Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. Nunberg implied these were the people on Mueller's list he communicated with the most, partly because he has openly feuded with many of the others—particularly Corey Lewandowski, whom he at one point suggested "colluded" with Hope Hicks to get him fired from the campaign. But he also continually signaled his intent to protect Stone, whom he characterized at one point as something like a "surrogate father."

"Roger is my mentor," Nunberg told Katy Tur. "Roger is like family me to me. I'm not going to do it."
Nunberg trotted out lines like this countless times. The only real result was to make it look like Stone was a man in need of protection, perhaps because of alleged communications, which Nunberg repeatedly referenced, between Stone and Wikileaks (and possibly its founder, Julian Assange). Stone's secret messages with the publisher, which helped make public thousands of Democratic National Committee emails during the election, were aired out by The Atlantic last week. Stone repeatedly claimed to know of forthcoming email dumps during the campaign, but now says he did not have advance knowledge of Wikileaks' planning.

Robert Mueller is reportedly probing whether Donald Trump himself had advance knowledge of the emails' publication, which could point to collusion.



Sam Nunberg: "Carter Page was colluding with the Russians."
1:35 PM - Mar 5, 2018

On that point, and well beyond the immediate issue of whether or not he'd cooperate, Nunberg launched into various diatribes about whether the president and his associates were guilty, as well as what they knew and when. Early on, he characterized the investigation as a "witch hunt":

Here, when I get a subpoena like this—Roger is right. It's a witch hunt. I mean Mr. Trump's right—it's a witch hunt.

But at other points, he suggested he believed Trump may be guilty—of something.

I think that he may have done something during the election. But I don't know that for sure.

And again:

I spoke to Steve Bannon for the first time last week after I went in there. I spoke to him and Steve and I were discussing how we both feel, like I'm telling you, that Trump may have done something during the election. I don't know what it is. I could be wrong, by the way.

And again:

The way [Mueller's team] asked questions about anything I heard after I was fired from the campaign to the general election, to even November 1—it insinuated to me that [Trump] may have done something. And he may very well have.

That doesn't sound like a witch hunt at all. It sounds like the witch hunt began when Nunberg was dragged into it—or when Stone was.

TheBeat w/Ari Melber


.@NunbergSam says that he won't comply with Mueller's subpoena because Mueller's team is "trying to set up a perjury case against Roger Stone." #TheBeat
3:07 PM - Mar 5, 2018

Nunberg also readily admitted he was offered immunity by the special counsel's team. He said, unequivocally and multiple times, that "Carter Page colluded with the Russians." He also said “the Russians and Trump did not collude" because "Putin is too smart to collude with Donald Trump.” Nunberg said without hesitation that Trump the Elder was aware of Donald Trump, Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, which The Younger attended—along with Son-in-Law-in-Chief Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort—on the explicit pretense of seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton from a hostile foreign power. Nunberg seemed to think this was no big deal, despite the fact that everyone involved repeatedly lied about the rendezvous when it was made public.

Natasha Bertrand


! Tapper: Do you think Donald Trump knew nothing about that [Trump Tower] meeting?
Nunberg: "No. You know he knew about it. He was talking about it a week before...I don't know why he went around trying to hide it."

1:12 PM - Mar 5, 2018

Nunberg also laid bare his beliefs about Trump's initial motives for getting into the presidential race, and his true attitude toward Hillary Clinton:

Donald Trump, when he was involved in conservative politics, did not help his business. Donald Trump did not want to attack Hillary Clinton early on in the campaign. He only wanted to attack Jeb Bush because it was not going to be good for him. And had he not won the primary, he was probably going to endorse Hillary Clinton.

But the running theme throughout the day was that Nunberg did not seem to be fully in control of the situation. He appeared flustered in his TV appearances, particularly on The Beat with Ari Melber, when he glanced around shiftily and continually contradicted himself. On Erin Burnett's CNN program, he seemed flushed and on edge. In all his appearances, he seemed to openly challenge the special counsel. “Let him arrest me,” Nunberg said to the Post. "I think it would be funny if they arrested me," he told Katy Tur on MSNBC, "I think it would be really, really funny." He repeatedly suggested he would laugh.

The Lead CNN


Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg defiantly says he won’t cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation: “I’m not cooperating. Arrest me.”
1:26 PM - Mar 5, 2018

But Nunberg—a lawyer—continually found himself asking cable news anchors for legal advice. (He also suggested his actual lawyer would dump him for his behavior, as he was doing it.) He asked Jake Tapper if he should cooperate. He asked Ari Melber if he thought he was going to jail, and asked Katy Tur what Mueller "was going to do to him." Meanwhile, he readily admitted to Melber that Mueller probably already has the emails in question. So why not just supply them?

At another point, on local news in New York, Nunberg went on a ghastly rant about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after she publicly dismissed his ongoing antics during the daily briefing:

If Sarah Huckabee wants to start debasing me, she’s a joke. Okay, fine, yeah, she’s unattractive. She’s a fat slob. Fine. But that’s not relevant. The person she works for has a 30 percent approval rating, okay?

Now there's a mentee of Roger Stone.

These dramatic breaks in reason, the constant self-contradiction, and Nunberg's general demeanor led some to question his mental state. Friends apparently feared he was having some sort of episode, particularly as they were unable to get in contact with him between TV hits. One interviewer, Erin Burnett, asked Nunberg straight-up if he was drunk on-air. Nunberg replied he was merely on anti-depressants:

Mike Ryan


Here's Erin Burnett telling Sam Nunberg she can smell alcohol on his breath.
4:45 PM - Mar 5, 2018

The suggestion Nunberg was not well posed an ethical question to the journalism world. As Brian Stelter wondered in his evening newsletter, "If your source seems drunk or drugged or just plain out of his mind, what is your responsibility?" It's an open question, as what Nunberg had to say was undeniably newsworthy, but he also may not have been of sound mind—and is not considered a dependable source on his best days, like when he made up a story about Chris Christie fetching Trump some McDonald's during the campaign.

In the end, explanations for Nunberg's gobsmacking performance yesterday seem to fall under a few main categories:

  • He thinks this is a genuinely good strategy
  • He was under the influence
  • He is unwell due to previous mental health issues or the stress of being involved in the investigation
  • This is a scheme by Roger Stone

It's hard to rule any of these out in the initial reckoning, except perhaps the first. Many who have traveled in Donald Trump's orbit are remarkably bad operators. You need only look just past Nunberg to someone like Michael Cohen, his certified brain genius of a personal lawyer who may have violated his own NDA and allowed the porn star with whom Trump allegedly had an affair to speak about it publicly.



"I think that he may have done something during the election," former Trump aide Sam Nunberg says of President Trump, but adds, "I don't know that for sure."
12:11 PM - Mar 5, 2018

But it still seems hard to believe Sam Nunberg thinks Monday was a good day for Sam Nunberg. As The New York Times pointed out, his lawyer could have attempted to plead the Fifth Amendment citing the right to avoid self-incrimination in order to avoid a grand jury appearance. There was no need to go on cable news and do something approaching the opposite.
Nunberg might be unwell. He reportedly did not show up for scheduled interviews on CNN and Good Morning America Tuesday morning. There is no doubt that Mueller's investigation has and will cause those involved a significant amount of stress—and cost them quite a bit of time and money.

But the prospect of more dirty tricks from Roger Stone can never be dismissed. After all, Stone has lately taken to spinning conspiracy theories from behind the desk at InfoWars. And Nunberg's willingness to lie, loudly and shamelessly, is not in doubt. Perhaps we'll look back at this as the first act in a Stonian play to characterize his increasing exposure in the Russia probe as some sort of Deep State-media conspiracy.

But all that's for a future episode of the inside-out Truman Show that is our national existence.