A former campaign aide to Donald Trump embarked on a whirlwind tour of US newsrooms on Monday to make a number of incendiary claims prompting one host to ask him if he had been drinking.
At various points during the day, Sam Nunberg:
- Told the Washington Post he had been subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal grand jury investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election but would not comply.
- Said Trump “won this election on his own” and “campaigned his ass off” but added “there is nobody who hates him more than me”.
- Told MSNBC by phone shortly after it “would be funny if they arrested me”.
- Said he didn’t think Trump colluded with the Russians but Robert Mueller might have uncovered some illegal activity by the president.
- Told CNN (over three separate appearances) that Carter Page had colluded with the Russians and was a “scumbag” and “a weird dude”.
- Added Trump knew about the Trump Jr meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower and “I don’t know why he went around trying to hide it”.
- Was told by CNN host Erin Burnett that she smelled alcohol on his breath.
- U-turned on his earlier position of not complying with the Russia investigation, telling the Associated Press: “I’m going to end up cooperating with [the grand jury].”
- Did a full 360 by saying he not appear before the jury on Friday during another appearance on MSNBC which resembled more an intervention than an interview.
- Was told by MSNBC legal expert Maya Wiley that, “I think your family wants you home for Thanksgiving, and I think you should testify,” to which he replied, “I’m not going to jail. Do you think I’m going to jail?”
- Finished the day telling Yahoo Finance that he’s “sick of this shit”.
Nunberg first worked for one of Trump’s businesses before helping advise his presidential campaign. He fired in August 2015 amid reports that he posted racially charged messages on Facebook.
His behaviour yesterday initially prompted astonishment but this soon turned to concern for his wellbeing with friends telling the Daily Beast they were worried he had been drinking.
The Special Counsel investigation led by Mueller is examining allegations that Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election that put him in the White House.
It arose in part from the findings of US intelligence agencies that Russia had meddled in the election and that its goals eventually included aiding Trump, who won a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied the allegations and Trump has said there was no collusion between Moscow and his campaign.
Mueller has charged several Trump associates and more than a dozen Russians.
In a telephone call with MSNBC, Nunberg said a subpoena to appear before a grand jury was “absolutely ridiculous.”
A person who refuses to testify or produce documents can be jailed for up to 18 months for civil contempt. The person could later be charged with criminal contempt, said Barbara McQuade, a former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan who teaches law at the University of Michigan.
“It is incredibly dangerous and it’s also such a bad idea to do it so publicly,” she said of Nunberg’s public pronouncements.
The only ways to avoid a grand jury subpoena are invoking the Constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination or claiming attorney-client or executive privilege, but these are not always successful.
Nunberg rejected any notion that Trump had colluded with Russians, reports Reuters.
“Donald Trump did not collude with the Russians. It is the biggest joke to ever think that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians,” said Nunberg
Last year, Mueller’s office won a court order forcing a lawyer for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to testify before the grand jury after she claimed attorney-client privilege.
“When a person uses the attorney-client relationship to further a criminal scheme, the law is well established that a claim of attorney-client ... privilege must yield to the grand jury’s investigatory needs,” Chief Judge Beryl Howell wrote on 2 October 2017.