There have been few more surreal moments in the Russia investigation — indeed, in the entire Trump era — than the one we just witnessed.
The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey broke the news Monday afternoon that former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg was shunning special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's grand jury subpoena, and in the article Nunberg supplied a series of colorful comments. Then he took to MSNBC and CNN for some even more unplugged interviews.
Here's a brief recap of what Nunberg said and what it means, ranging from the serious to the bizarre:
He thinks Mueller has something on Trump
Nunberg said he was ignoring the subpoena in part because there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and that it would consume too much of his time. But weirdly, he also seemed to say he thinks Mueller has something else on President Trump.
When MSNBC's Katy Tur asked, “Do you think that they have something on the president?” Nunberg responded: “I think they may. I think that he may have done something during the election, but I don't know that for sure.”
In an interview airing later on CNN, Nunberg elaborated cryptically: “The way they asked about his business dealings, the way they asked if you had heard anything even while I was fired, it just made me think that they suspected something about him.”
Ultimately, Nunberg told CNN that Trump “may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.”
Nunberg said specifically that he believed former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page “was colluding with the Russians” but suggested Page might have been a lone wolf. Nunberg also said he believes that Mueller thinks that Roger Stone, his own political ally, colluded via contacts with WikiLeaks.
Nunberg seemed to admit he was speculating, but he has also been interviewed by Mueller's team already, and he worked on the Trump campaign until August 2015 and is close to Stone. That suggests he may not totally be freelancing.
He said/speculated that Trump was aware of the Trump Tower meeting beforehand
One of the big unanswered questions of the Russia investigation is whether the president had any knowledge of or involvement in that meeting Donald Trump Jr. set up at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veslnitskaya, who had promised compromising information about Hillary Clinton. The meeting seemed to be at the very least an attempt to solicit help from foreign sources.
Nunberg says he's convinced that Trump was.
“You know he knew about it,” Nunberg said. “He was talking about it a week before. ... I don't know why he went around trying to hide it.”
It's not clear whether Nunberg is referring to Trump's private or public comments. We knew Trump was involved on the back end of the Trump Tower meeting, having crafted Trump Jr.'s misleading statement when the whole thing blew up. But the White House has denied Trump knew about the meeting.
Interestingly, former top Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon has also suggested Trump had to know about the meeting. “The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these [people] up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero,” Bannon told Michael Wolff.
Russian scion Emin Agalarov offered Trump women in his hotel room in Moscow
A central figure in both the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal controversies is Keith Schiller, the longtime Trump bodyguard who allegedly facilitated Trump's liaisons with the women. Nunberg says Schiller told him that Emin Agalarov, the pop-star son of a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin, offered to send women in Trump's hotel room during the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.
Congressional investigators have asked Schiller about unverified claims in the Christopher Steele dossier that the Russians obtained compromising information about Trump during the 2013 trip.
Agalarov, you might recall, was involved in setting up that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
Nunberg said Trump was “too smart” to have the women come up to his room. (As you'll see later, though, in the same interview he referred to Trump as “an idiot.")
Nunberg dared Mueller to arrest him
Regarding the idea that Mueller would hold him in contempt for refusing to cooperate, Nunberg told Dawsey: “Let him arrest me. Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday.”
Then he told Tur: “I think it would be funny if they arrested me.”
By the end of the Tur interview, Nunberg asked her what she thought would happen. “What do you think Mueller's going to do to me?” Tur, while specifying that she wasn't a lawyer, suggested he might be held in contempt. CNN's Jake Tapper would offer similar advice.
While it might seem as if Nunberg is trying to help Trump, he insists that's not the case. In fact, he told Dawsey that he “hates” Trump and later said that Trump is an “idiot.”
“Donald Trump won this election on his own,” Nunberg said. “He campaigned his a-- off. And there is nobody who hates him more than me.”
He later told CNN of Trump: “Granted, Donald Trump caused this, because he’s an idiot.” He cited Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and an Oval Office meeting Trump had with Russians.
The purely bizarre:
He referred to Bill Clinton's “illegitimate black child”
At one point, Nunberg stressed that he and the campaign weren't especially close toward the end and that it didn't take his advice. He even said that if he had been in charge, “we would have Bill Clinton's illegitimate black child there at the second debate.”
This refers to a specious rumor that dates back to the 1990s.
He threatened to rip up the subpoena on live TV
Dawsey reported that “Nunberg said he was planning to go on Bloomberg TV and tear up the subpoena.”
One might argue that the MSNBC and CNN interviews were the metaphorical equivalent of that. And even he seemed to recognize that, saying telling Tur, “By the way, I think my lawyer's going to dump me.”