On Monday, one of Donald Trump’s former campaign aides, Sam Nunberg, ignited a media conflagration and descended into mad rants on daytime television. He made wild accusations against the president, inspiring questions about whether or not he was drunk on live TV, and then appeared to cave on the issue that gained him national attention in the first place.
Nunberg’s meltdown will inspire more liberal suggestions that Donald Trump “colluded” with Russia to win the 2016 election, but like Steve Bannon before him, Nunberg has proven himself a less than reliable witness.
Without further ado, here are five things to know about this ex-staffer’s meltdown.
1. Who Sam Nunberg is.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Sam Nunberg graduated from the Touro Law Center in Long Island, New York, after getting a bachelor’s in History in 2004. He served as New York City chair for “Students for Mitt” during the 2008 presidential election while in law school. His experience with the Romney campaign connected him to Roger Stone, the rogue political operative who became involved with Trump during the 2016 election.
Nunberg described Stone as his mentor and “surrogate father.”
Between 2009 and 2011, he served as deputy director of government affairs for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). From January 2012 to November 2014, he directed the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project.
Nunberg has a long history of being hired and fired by Trump. After orchestrating an interview between Trump and BuzzFeed that produced a very negative article, Nunberg offered his resignation and Trump fired him in February 2014.
One year later, Trump rehired Nunberg as a communications adviser. After six months, the staffer found himself fired again, after Business Insider reported his history of racially charged political posts dating back to 2007. Nunberg referred to Obama as a “Socialist Marxist Islamo Fascist Nazi Appeaser.” The staffer said “anything that was posted under my name does not mean I posted it,” and he later apologized in 2017.
After Trump fired him, the staffer turned around and endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in March 2016, declaring that Trump “does not have a coherent political ideology.”
Hope Hicks attacked him in December 2016, saying, “He’s a highly self-destructive individual who makes routine calls begging for his job back.” In July 2016, Trump sued Nunberg for $10 million, alleging that the former staffer had breached a confidentiality agreement. He “amicably” settled the suit in August 2016.
2. How Nunberg became news.
On Monday morning, The Washington Post published an interview with Nunberg, in which he announced that he had received a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to appear in front of a federal grand jury on Friday, and that he would refuse to appear. The subpoena sought communications related to Trump and nine other people, including Hope Hicks, Michael Cohen, Stephen Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, and Roger Stone.
The former staffer insisted he would not appear. “Let him arrest me,” he told the Post. “Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday.”
He announced plans to go on Bloomberg TV and “tear up the subpoena.”
“I’m not spending 80 hours going over my emails with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon and producing them,” Nunberg declared. “There is nobody who hates [Trump] more than me.”
Refusing to answer a federal subpoena is a bad idea, and can lead someone to be held in contempt of court. Prosecutors can even throw someone like Nunberg in jail to try to force compliance. If the former staffer fights this, however, he may prevail. As it turns out, Nunberg would apparently back off from this claim, but not after his five minutes of fame and the cratering of his own reputation.
3. Explosive claims, but no collusion.
From the Post interview onward, Nunberg made numerous wild claims about Trump and the Mueller investigation. These claims will likely explode into new liberal talking points, but do not actually implicate Trump in “collusion” with Russia.
The former staffer suggested Trump knew about the June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (which might have been orchestrated by the Clinton campaign). Trump has repeatedly claimed not to have known about the meeting.
“I don’t know why he couldn’t just admit he knew about this meeting,” Nunberg told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I believe he did. If he did, I don’t think — you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t think anything wrong with this meeting.”
The former staffer repeated his claim when Burnett asked him to clarify. “I think he knew it,” he said. “I think if I had to guess Don informed him about it.”
Nunberg also made news by flatly declaring that “Carter Page was colluding with the Russians” in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. He repeated this claim, just like the last one. “Yes, I believe Carter Page was colluding with the Russians.”
Crucially, however, the ex-staffer insisted that Page was not an adviser to the Trump campaign, contrary to Tapper’s suggestion.
“He wasn’t really an adviser, Jake. Come on,” Nunberg said. “Do you really think he was an adviser? He was a name on the list. Let’s be honest about this. Trump had to start, Trump had to form — as you’ll recall, Jake, Trump had to form a foreign policy advisory board. They didn’t know — they were happy to get anybody they could get. That guy was introduced to the campaign through Corey Lewandowski.”
These two news tidbits will keep the liberal media spinning for a while, but neither reveals the ballyhooed “collusion” between Trump and Russia. Even if Trump did know about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting — a highly debatable claim, coming as it does from a twice-fired staffer during a media meltdown — Donald Trump Jr. may not have told his father about the claims that the Russian government wanted to help the Republican campaign.
As for Carter Page, it is quite feasible that his role was minimal, as Nunberg pointed out. Again, however, this blatant statement of Russian “collusion” within the Trump campaign did not come from the most reliable of witnesses.
The former staffer also suggested that Mueller has something on Trump, and that Mueller’s team would insinuate that Roger Stone was working with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Even so, in his interview with the Post, Nunberg flatly shot down the “collusion” narrative. “The Russians and Trump did not collude. Putin is too smart to collude with Donald Trump,” the former staffer said. “Donald Trump won this election on his own. He campaigned his a** off. And there is nobody who hates him more than me.”
4. Full meltdown.
Besides these tidbits of rather questionable news, Nunberg’s television appearances mostly featured crazed statements of unbridled personal attacks.
“Donald Trump is an idiot,” he said at one point. He told CNN’s Burnett, “Vladimir Putin is too smart to collude with Donald Trump. Donald Trump couldn’t keep his mouth shut if Putin colluded with him.”
Trump was far from the only person the ex-staffer attacked. “Do you think I would ever talk to that moron?” Nunberg told CNN’s Gloria Borger, referring to Special Counsel Mueller.
Of Corey Lewandowski, he said, “I despise Corey. If I could find Corey in an alley it wouldn’t be very nice.”
After White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed Nunberg’s role in the campaign, he lashed out at her as well. “She’s a joke,” he said. “Okay, fine, yeah, she’s unattractive, she’s a fat slob. But that’s unrelevant [sic]. The person she works for has a 30-percent approval rating.”
Furthermore, he claimed he was the best of the former Trump staffers. “I didn’t steal from the campaign, okay? I didn’t have an illicit affair with a married man. All I did was work for him for four and a half years and now I get this crap,” he said. Trump “was like a father to me and he treated me like that when he fired me … and he let Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks collude.”
Nunberg veered off topic, at one point even attacking “Bill Clinton’s illegitimate black child.”
At one point, CNN’s Burnett confronted Nunberg about the rumors he had been drinking. “I smell alcohol on your breath,” she said.
“I have not been drinking, no,” the ex-staffer responded. He said he had taken nothing “besides my meds… anti-depressants, ok?”
The Daily Beast reported that “several of his friends” said they were worried “Nunberg had been drinking prior to dialing in to MSNBC and CNN.”
“What the f*ck is this guy doing,” one senior Trump aide asked The Daily Beast. Another source said they saw a White House official “facepalm” while reacting to a Nunberg interview.
On Monday night, Nunberg appeared to reverse course, saying he will likely cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. He said he merely objected to the subpoena because it asked for information about people whom he either never spoke with or with whom he had close relationships.
“I just don’t want to make it easy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask for my personal communications.”
The attention to Nunberg’s outburst should demonstrate to Mueller — and to both sides of Congress — just how confused the American media and American people are about what is really going on. The lack of concrete details about “collusion” with Russia or the lack thereof is maddening, and it only pushes conservatives and liberals to fundamentally disagree on how to interpret what little is known concretely.
Americans should avoid rushing to judgment one way or another. Instead, many media outlets are likely to fasten upon Nunberg’s outburst as an indictment against Trump. Each of this man’s claims should be taken with an extremely large grain of salt, but in the lack of evidence to back up or dismiss his claims, they are likely to be given undue credibility.