Sam Nunberg, an early political adviser to Donald Trump, had a very public meltdown on Monday afternoon, repeatedly daring special counsel Robert Mueller to greenlight his arrest and insinuating that his old boss, the president, did indeed do “something” wrong during the campaign.
“You know [Trump] knew about it,” Nunberg said at one point during an interview with CNN, of the infamous Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. “He was talking about it a week before...I don't know why he went around trying to hide it."
Rarely, if ever, has a political operative acted so brazenly when facing the very real prospect of being tossed in jail. Nunberg seemed not to care about how the chips would fall. But several of his friends told The Daily Beast they were concerned that he was putting himself in severe legal jeopardy by going on multiple live cable-news programs Monday afternoon.
They also said that they were worried Nunberg had been drinking prior to dialing in to MSNBC and CNN.
Starting Monday morning, Nunberg began calling several close associates that he was flatly refusing, at this time, to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Three Nunberg friends said they walked away from those conversations fearful that he was “drinking again” and was about to embark on a personal tailspin. They didn’t know it would play out on daytime TV.
Nunberg did not respond to multiple calls and texts from The Daily Beast
One associate urged Nunberg, a witness in Mueller’s probe, not to do anything stupid and to go to his parents’ house immediately. According to this source, Nunberg promptly hung up. Minutes later, the former Trump campaign aide was on MSNBC via phone, starting a mid-Monday media blitz that would include several different shows on CNN and MSNBC.
"I think it would be funny if they arrested me,” Nunberg told MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Monday during a freewheeling interview that ended with the former Trump aide asking, “What do you think Mueller is gonna do to me?”
Nunberg’s cable news escapades came shortly after The Washington Post published an interview with Nunberg, in which he said he plans to defy a subpoena from the special counsel, who’s seeking his testimony as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Nunberg remains defiant, and insistent that the investigations into possible Trump campaign “collusion” with sketchy Russian actors were part of a “witch hunt.” But Nunberg suggested on MSNBC that Mueller might nonetheless be in possession of some sort of incriminating evidence.
“Do you think that they have something on the president?" Tur asked him.
“I think they may,” Nunberg replied. “I think that he may have done something during the election."
Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, Nunberg called into other shows, including CNN host Jake Tapper’s. He repeatedly raged about President Trump treating him “very badly” and “like crap.”
“Donald Trump is an idiot,” he declared at one point.
Nunberg vented about having to hire a lawyer for 80 hours to help sort through campaign emails and having to pay “50-grand [in] legal fees.” He also talked on-air about how his lawyer was probably going to ditch him now.
The conversation wasn’t always focused on Mueller. Nunberg, at one point, riffed on “Bill Clinton’s illegitimate black child” and the “affair” between Trump-world figures Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski. And he stuck up for his friends and fellow former Trump campaign alums Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. (Nunberg says Mueller’s team is asking for him to fork over his communications with Stone and Bannon, among others.)
In a live evening appearance on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront, the host asked Nunberg if he's been drinking:
"Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath," she said.
"I haven't had a drink," Nunberg replied, saying all he'd taken were antidepressants.
When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the ongoing meltdown at the press briefing on Monday, she said that Nunberg was “incorrect” in his assertions, and reminded the press that he “doesn’t work at the White House.”
Other West Wing officials were similarly unimpressed.
“What the fuck is this guy doing,” one senior Trump aide asked The Daily Beast, mid-Nunberg-rant. Another source said they saw another White House official “facepalm” as they reacted to a Nunberg interview in real-time this afternoon.
Stone, Nunberg’s mentor, was measured in response to his protégé’s wild media appearances.
“I was briefly part of the Trump campaign and has [sic] been the President's friend and adviser for decades; and would expect that Mueller's team would at some point ask for any documents or emails sent or written by me,” Stone messaged The Daily Beast in response to inquiries related to the Nunberg cable-news blitz. “But let me reiterate, I have no knowledge or involvement in Russian Collusion or any other inappropriate act.”
Nunberg’s behavior this week is unlikely to improve or repair his standing in Trump-world, which was never that great even before the president essentially exiled him early on in the presidential campaign. According to two sources with direct knowledge, when Nunberg worked for Trump as a political adviser, the future president would regularly berate Nunberg in private. Trump would call him a “jackass” and a “shithead,” among other derogatory terms, and make fun of him, and swear at him loudly.
Trump has twice fired Nunberg, and subsequently sued him for ten million dollars.
“Sam Nunberg was fired. He’s a highly self-destructive individual who makes routine calls begging for his job back,” Trump told The Daily Beast in December 2015, in response to Nunberg’s comments predicting that Trump was doomed in the Republican primary. “This is the interview of a desperate person who is trying to hang on and stay relevant.”