Sam Nunberg got his 15 minutes of fame on Monday. Does the celebrity cost him a year of his freedom?
In several wildly entertaining interviews, Nunberg dropped jaws and dilated pupils by announcing a refusal to comply with Robert Mueller’s subpoena ordering him to turn over an array of emails and testify before a grand jury. CNN’s Erin Burnett asked him about drug and alcohol use and claimed she could smell booze on his breath. He appeared unguarded but lucid to viewers not watching on smellivision. By the end of the day, the Roger Stone-protégé seemed to reverse course and agree to cooperate but Monday’s many twists and turns make it difficult to predict his next move.
Nunberg characterized the investigation as a partisan fishing expedition. He believes Mueller wishes to attaint or otherwise persecute Roger Stone and regards the requests to turn over digital information to the grand jury as terribly onerous and redundant, given the probability that the special counsel’s office already possess these communications. He essentially challenges Mueller to throw him in jail.
Nunberg’s take on the whole affair appeared nuanced, unpredictable, and, at times, shocking. He believes campaign aide Carter Page colluded with the Russians. He speculates that Mueller intends to bring down Trump on some unrelated matter concerning his business dealings. He portrays Mueller’s investigation as a partisan, politics-by-other-means, score-settling endeavor. He cites Mueller’s disinterest in the Brothers Podesta, allegedly involved in Paul Manafort’s Ukraine dealings, and Hillary Clinton hiding emails from investigators with impunity as two examples of this. If Comey and company balked at the idea of prosecuting Clinton over destroyed emails, then Team Mueller won’t dare jail him over a far more minor offense, he reasons. But his reasoning lacks reason here. If he truly believes Mueller an interested party unmotivated by fairness, why would he think him above jailing him for ignoring a subpoena, a clear criminal offense?
I caught Nunberg’s conversation with Ari Melber on MSNBC’s The Beat live. It lasted for about half of the hour-long program, and included, for a time, two very intelligent attorneys asking why Nunberg would prefer a year in jail to spending “80 hours”—Nunberg’s estimate—combing through emails between himself and Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and others, and why, if Roger Stone remains innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, would Nunberg refuse to testify on the grounds that the probe seeks to persecute Stone, a man Nunberg referred to as a “mentor” and “surrogate father.” The attorneys pointed out that Nunberg, granted immunity by Mueller, cannot take the fifth amendment and that no one possesses a right to ignore subpoenas without repercussions.
Though the two attorneys on the program shredded most of Nunberg’s legal arguments, his broader, ethical and political points seemed worth thinking about.
Sam Nunberg left Donald Trump’s employ months before the casting of votes in the Republican primaries and caucuses. Why does he factor into an investigation of alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election?
What in the world does Roger Stone, who similarly departed Trump’s campaign in 2015, have to do with any of this? Why do the activities of Manafort well before his gaining employ by Trump pertain to investigation of collusion between the campaign and Russia? How did an investigation assigned to look into the 2016 election meander into Trump’s business dealings long before this?
Inquiring minds want to know.