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Sam Nunberg: 'I'm not having a meltdown'

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent


Sam Nunberg says he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. Special counsel Robert Mueller may have other ideas.

The former senior campaign aide to President Trump launched a bizarre media blitz Monday in response to a subpoena from Mueller seeking Nunberg’s appearance before a grand jury and records of years of correspondence with people associated with Trump. Nunberg spent several hours giving a series of fiery interviews that left observers questioning his mental state and sobriety. The unconventional press tour culminated in an expletive-filled phone conversation with Yahoo News in which Nunberg addressed his critics and explained what drove him to air his grievances.

“What my point is, is that I’m sick of this s***,” Nunberg said.

Nunberg could be an important witness in Mueller’s investigation. He was one of Trump’s first campaign staffers, having been an associate of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone. Stone is a central figure in the allegations of collusion with Russia because of his interactions with WikiLeaks, which published emails that hackers linked to Russian intelligence stolen from Trump’s Democratic rivals.

Sam Nunberg and Robert Mueller. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: file, AP)

Nunberg kicked things off with a Washington Post interview in which he disclosed that he’d been served with a subpoena and that he did not intend to comply. Nunberg subsequently repeated that assertion in interviews with outlets including CNN, MSNBC, the website Vox, and a local New York City news channel.

Yahoo News reached Nunberg as he sped through Manhattan in a taxi after leaving CNN’s studios.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Nunberg asked.

Nunberg entered Trump’s orbit in 2010, when Stone was mounting one of his infamous political stunts — managing a quixotic gubernatorial bid that had a pro-pot, pro-prostitution platform. In a 2016 interview with Yahoo News, Stone said Nunberg, who was 30 at the time, approached him with some ideas for the campaign.

“He comes on a bit strong, as you know,” Stone said of Nunberg. “I mean, within a week of my meeting him he was going around telling people I was his mentor. He’s got chutzpah, as they say.”

Nunberg stuck with Stone, and when Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, Nunberg was one of the top advisers on a skeleton crew. He helped write many of Trump’s early speeches, strategy memos and tweets. He claims that he and Stone came up with Trump’s signature policy proposal — the wall on America’s southern border.

In his conversation with Yahoo News on Monday evening, Nunberg suggested his media blitz was inspired by Stone and Trump’s smashmouth style of politics.

“Like, how ballsy is this?” Nunberg asked. “This is like Donald Trump Roger Stone. Right?”

Much of the call with Nunberg consisted of him seeking reassurance about his performance in interviews but not pausing to listen to responses.

“Notice how I go on TV and say, ‘I hate Trump?’”

Nunberg and Trump have had a tumultuous relationship. The ex-aide was hired and fired by Trump multiple times before the election. In early 2014, he was ousted after encouraging Trump to cooperate with a BuzzFeed article that proved highly critical of the real estate mogul. He rejoined Trump’s circle and was dismissed again shortly after Trump formally began his campaign in 2015, when Business Insider uncovered a series of racially charged Facebook posts Nunberg had written. In July 2016, Trump sued him for $10 million, alleging that Nunberg had violated a confidentiality agreement. Nunberg claimed that the lawsuit was settled “amicably.”

During his conversation with Yahoo News, Nunberg brought up comments he had made about White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in one of his many Monday media appearances.

“Do you like how I said that she should shut her fat mouth?”

Yahoo News reached out to Sanders for reaction to Nunberg’s comments. Sanders and other White House staff members did not respond to our request.

“She should stop talking s***,” Nunberg said of Sanders. “They’ve been putting out all day that I’m a drunk and a drug addict.”

In an interview with CNN earlier in the evening, host Erin Burnett told Nunberg that someone she described as “a Trump ally” had suggested to her that Nunberg was “drunk “ or “off his meds.” Burnett claimed that other CNN reporters had received similar accusations about Nunberg’s sobriety from sources close to the White House. Later in their conversation, Burnett told Nunberg that she “smelled alcohol” on his breath. Nunberg, who has been candid about his past struggles with alcohol, said he was not drunk and had taken “antidepressants” only as prescribed.

Nunberg told Yahoo News that Stone was the main factor behind his decision to take to the airwaves after being subpoenaed.

“I’m doing this to defend … Roger,” Nunberg said. “I’m not going to let them just hurt Roger for no reason.”

Nunberg said that he had first heard from Mueller’s team in January, when they asked to interview him. He said their questions focused on Stone.

“They asked about if I knew about Roger’s business, what Roger does, which I didn’t like,” Nunberg said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Stone did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

Nunberg said Mueller’s team had also asked him “s*** about Trump.” He said he had not personally witnessed any inappropriate actions by Trump during his time on the campaign, although in some of his earlier interviews Nunberg did say he believes Mueller has “something” on the president.

In response to a question, Nunberg acknowledged to Yahoo News that some of Mueller’s questions had concerned the firing of FBI Director James Comey and a meeting Trump’s son and other top aides had with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in the run-up to the election.

In one of the more eye-popping comments from his media blitz, Nunberg told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he believes another former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, “was colluding with the Russians.” Page did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

Nunberg told Yahoo News that he was refusing Mueller’s document request because it came with an unrealistic deadline, considering the large amount of material requested. Nunberg said he had extensive correspondence with former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

“Here’s the other thing I didn’t find fair — they sent it to me on a Friday and they wanted it by Monday at 3 p.m. And I’m sitting there, I’m trying to earn a living,” said Nunberg, who now works as a consultant. “What do I have to go over? … Do you know how many emails I email with Steve Bannon? I didn’t think it was fair. Do you think it was fair?”

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Yahoo News asked Nunberg whether he or his lawyer had tried to get an extension on the document request before he decided not to cooperate. Nunberg indicated that he hadn’t pursued an extension.

“My lawyer is so pissed,” he said.

Nunberg said he hadn’t cleared the interviews with his lawyer and declined to say when he had last spoken to his attorney. Nunberg’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Nunberg denied speculation that he had been drinking or taking drugs, which he attributed to White House officials seeking to undermine him, or to his former mentor, Stone.

“Do you think I was high and drunk?” Nunberg asked. “You saw the interview. What did you think? I’m not high and drunk. I was not high and drunk. What I’m doing is what nobody else has ever done.”

Yahoo News asked Nunberg to characterize his relationship with Stone.

“He always treats me like s***, and he hates me,” Nunberg said.

Commentators made the obvious point that in the context of a serious criminal investigation, giving interviews without checking with a lawyer seemed at the very least self-defeating. CNN editor at large Chris Cillizza skewered Nunberg as a “D-list” political talent who is not “sophisticated.”

“My response is Chris Cillizza can go f*** himself and he dresses like s***,” Nunberg told Yahoo News. “I’m not having a meltdown. In fact, I’m the first person ever standing up for themselves.”

About the Trump campaign and administration, Nunberg declared: “They treated me like s***.”

“Didn’t I say that Trump was a disloyal a**hole tonight?” he asked.

Nunberg said he’s made no recent attempts to contact the president.

“I despise him,” Nunberg said of Trump.

Nunberg blatantly contradicted himself at points in his marathon series of interviews with Yahoo News and others. Minutes before getting on the phone with Yahoo News, he suggested to the Associated Press that he would most likely cooperate with Mueller after all.

However, near the end of his conversation with Yahoo News, Nunberg said he wasn’t worried about Mueller having him arrested for contempt.

“He’s not going to arrest me,” he said. “You know how stupid it is if he arrests me? It’ll be the funniest thing. … I’ll make a spectacle out of it. No justice no peace!”

About an hour later, Nunberg told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that he did not plan to comply with the request to testify.

Yahoo News asked Nunberg how he thought he would fare in jail. He repeated the question.

“How would they treat me?”

Nunberg paused briefly and suddenly said he had run into someone on the street.

“Let me talk to somebody, a friend of mine,” he said.

Yahoo News could overhear Nunberg speaking to another man, whose voice was muffled.

“How awesome was this? You ever see anything like this?” Nunberg asked.

Nunberg left the phone on for several minutes, transmitting scraps of his conversation. Shortly before he hung up, he proclaimed his status as a trending topic on social media.

“No. 1 on Twitter!” Nunberg yelled.

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