Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg had a surreal day Monday. After deciding he wouldnāt cooperate with a grand jury subpoena from special counsel Robert S. Mueller IIIās Russia investigation, he went on a media blitz to, well, air some things. Each interview seemed intent upon out-shocking the last.
By the end, he had suggested that President Donald Trump may have worked with the Russians, dared Mueller to throw him in jail, repeatedly inquired as to what journalists thought his fate might be, and said he thought Trump knew about that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. Nunberg did no fewer than three separate interviews with CNN, two with MSNBC and several others.
So what on earth was all that about? Below are some ideas.
n It was an elaborate, Roger Stone-ian show.
If thereās one key piece of the puzzle when it comes to explaining the mess that was Monday, it might well have been this: Sam Nunberg is not just some random political operative; heās a close ally of Roger Stone.
Stone is known for bizarre antics that are just as often self-serving as self-destructive. Rick Wilson tweeted āI only caught the very tail end of that that Nunberg interview, but that was bonkers even by todayās standards. āAnd if you didnāt smell Roger Stone all over that prank, I canāt help you.ā
Indeed, Nunberg did little to suggest Monday that this wasnāt some Stone-orchestrated scene. He repeatedly talked about how he felt Mueller was targeting Stone for alleged collusion with WikiLeaks, and he repeatedly argued that Stone was innocent. Despite plenty of inconsistencies in his appearances, this was one point he kept coming back to.
āIām not going to cooperate when they want me to come into a grand jury for them to insinuate that Roger Stone was colluding with Julian Assange,ā Nunberg told MSNBC. āRoger is my mentor. Roger is like family.ā He added in another interview with MSNBC: āIām not going to go in there for them to set up a case against Roger. Roger did not do anything. Roger and I were treated like crap by Donald Trump, okay?ā
But even if you grant that this was all some contrived spectacle to assist Stone in some way, that still doesnāt answer how. Refusing to assist Mueller would seem to be help enough; why go on a media blitz saying all kinds of bizarre things? Perhaps this was just performance art for performance artās sake.
n He broke under pressure.
In one of Nunbergās later interviews, with CNNās Erin Burnett, Burnett asked him a question that might have otherwise seemed off-base: Are you drunk? In fact, Burnett didnāt just ask; she said she smelled alcohol on his breath.
Nunberg denied he had been drinking and said he wasnāt on anything ābesides my meds - antidepressants.ā
Even separate from that question, though, it was clear Nunberg was under plenty of pressure. That tends to be the case when youāve got jail time hanging over your head for ignoring a subpoena.
When New York magazineās Olivia Nuzzi reached Nunbergās mother by accident, she said his mother told her Nunberg was unavailable because āheās not doing well.ā
Nuzzi tweeted āI just accidentally called Sam Nunbergās mom, who told me heās not available because āheās not doing well.ā Sheās very nice!ā
We all react to stress differently. Perhaps Nunberg, who was known for being very freewheeling and open with the media, simply started talking and couldnāt stop himself. Maybe he found himself in a tough spot and his first reaction was to try to talk his way out of it.
n His comments were targeted at Trump.
Nunbergās relationship with Trump is nothing if not complicated. As CNN recaps, Trump has fired him, rehired him, fired him again and sued him for $10 million before the two of them settled a lawsuit over Nunbergās alleged breach of their nondisclosure agreement. The White House has also been dismissive of Nunberg whenever he has occasionally offered comments it didnāt like.
During Mondayās interviews, Nunberg oscillated between saying Trump hadnāt colluded and suggesting he might have had some arrangement with Russia. He at one point said Trump was too smart to fall victim to Russian blackmail, only to later say that Trump ācaused this, because heās an idiot.ā
He also said that āthere is nobody who hates [Trump] more than me.ā
āIām not a Donald Trump fan, as I told you before, okay?ā Nunberg told CNN. āHe treated me like crap.ā
If Nunberg really does harbor such resentment toward Trump, maybe publicly speculating about Trump having had an arrangement with Russia and having known about the Trump Tower meeting is one final piece of revenge.
Coming from someone who has been interviewed by Muellerās team, that certainly carries some weight.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.