Ex-Trump aide defies Mueller, risks jail
For months, a parade of witnesses summoned by special counsel Robert Mueller has dutifully agreed to testify as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.
Until Sam Nunberg went rogue.
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The former presidential campaign adviser to President Donald Trump publicly defied Mueller on Monday, announcing that he would ignore a grand jury subpoena from the special prosecutor — and even daring Mueller to put him in handcuffs.
Nunberg also suggested that his former boss faces legal jeopardy, telling CNN that Mueller “has enough” on the president and doesn’t need his testimony. “Let him arrest me,” Nunberg told the Washington Post.
But in an interview with POLITICO, Nunberg offered a backhanded defense of his former boss, suggesting that if Trump had colluded with the Kremlin, his secret would be known by now.
The reason? “Trump can’t keep his fucking mouth shut,” Nunberg said.
It was a head-scratching turn of events, particularly given that Nunberg appears to be a relatively minor figure in the Russia saga. Trump fired Nunberg — a self-described protégé of political operative Roger Stone — in August 2015 after the disclosure of racially offensive Facebook posts he had written. That means Nunberg was not working for Trump for most of the time period Mueller is known to be studying. And Nunberg himself has no apparent close ties to Moscow, unlike many other Trump associates swept up in Mueller’s probe.
Some Trump allies struggled to discern any strategy behind Nunberg’s defiance of Mueller, whom he told CNN he had been “warned” not to cross.
“These are exactly the same kind of personality traits that led him to be separated from the campaign,” said former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. “He’s got a history of this kind of stuff, unfortunately. I don’t think this is going to end well.
In numerous interviews on Monday afternoon — some carried live on cable news — Nunberg suggested he did not want to incriminate his friends, Stone and former Trump political strategist Steve Bannon. “He doesn’t need me giving him information on Steve Bannon and Roger Stone,” Nunberg told CNN.
“Roger is my mentor. Roger is like family to me. I’m not going to do it,” Nunberg told MSNBC.
In a later interview with MSNBC, Nunberg seemed to further complicate the picture, saying that he and Bannon agreed in a conversation last week that Trump may have “done something” that makes the president legally vulnerable. “I don’t know what it is,” Nunberg said. “I could be wrong.”
That admission prompted California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu to reply on Twitter: “Dear Sam Nunberg: What you just said on national TV is one reason Special Counsel Mueller would like to see your communications with Steve Bannon. Get it?”
Nunberg in his interviews also outed himself as the source of a Mueller subpoena whose details surfaced in media reports over the weekend. The subpoena demanded all communications Nunberg has had with Trump and nine other campaign aides dating back to November 2015, including former campaign chiefs Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort and Bannon.
Nunberg also disobeyed requests from Mueller’s investigators to avoid publicly discussing his five-plus hour interview with Mueller’s team in Washington last month.
Nunberg told MSNBC he was asked whether Trump took policy positions during the campaign because of his private business dealings. “I will tell you he never told me that,” Nunberg replied.
And he called “ridiculous” a question about whether he had ever heard anyone speak Russian in Trump’s office.
Nunberg also told MSNBC that his interview with Mueller’s team gave him the impression the special counsel has “something” on the president.
During her daily briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called that assertion “incorrect” and denied any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Sanders said she wouldn’t comment on “somebody that doesn’t work at the White House” and added: “We are fully cooperating with the office of the special counsel.”
On CNN, Nunberg speculated that the grand jury appearance he plans to skip on Friday was arranged in part so he could be asked about what he’s heard from senior Trump associates involving Trump’s attendance in 2013 at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Nunberg said he’s spoken with Trump’s longtime security guard Keith Schiller about that Trump visit — specifically including what Nunbeg calls an offer by Trump’s Russian partners in staging the pageant to send prostitutes to his hotel room.