The Sam Nunberg exit interview: 'Now the game's over'

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, left, arrives at the U.S. District Courthouse to appear before a grand jury on March 9, 2018, in Washington. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, left, arrives at the U.S. District Courthouse to appear before a grand jury on March 9, 2018, in Washington. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON — We in the media might not have Sam Nunberg to kick around anymore. Then again, who knows for sure?

Late Thursday evening, hours before he appeared before a grand jury hearing as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the former campaign aide to President Trump called Yahoo News unprompted to give what he said would be his “final interview” about a wild week that saw him dominate the headlines with a series of media appearances that led some observers to question his sanity and sobriety.

Nunberg said he would “lay low” following his testimony.

I am not giving any comments. I am not describing the grand jury. I am not going around doing interviews,” Nunberg said of his plans.

When Nunberg walked into the grand jury room on Friday morning, he did not answer questions from reporters gathered at the courthouse.

Still, there’s ample reason to doubt Nunberg’s vow of silence. He spent virtually all of Monday talking to reporters and making a slew of contradictory statements. After loudly declaring he would not cooperate with Mueller’s subpoena for documents related to other top Trump campaign aides, he took it all back by the end of the day.

After Nunberg took over the airwaves and became the top trending topic on Twitter, there was handwringing among the same media that covered his every move about whether he should have been given so much attention. Nunberg was also questioned by CNN’s Erin Burnett about whether he was drunk on air, an accusation he has vehemently denied.

But even though Nunberg’s press tour clearly veered into spectacle, his status as a witness in the Mueller probe made him uniquely positioned to provide details about the focus of the investigation. And Mueller’s interest in Nunberg is understandable. Nunberg was one of the first to join Trump’s campaign staff, and was a key architect of the future president’s early strategy before his numerous sequential departures and rehirings. So knowing what questions Nunberg faces from prosecutors and seeing how he handles the pressure of the probe is a rare glimpse into the investigation that has consumed the White House for months.

Unfortunately, the insights Nunberg offered about the Mueller investigation were confusing at best. To begin, there was his insistence that he would not cooperate with the subpoena. “I’m going to be the first one in history to flat out say, ‘I’m not going,’” he announced. To Yahoo News, Nunberg claimed he never said he wouldn’t testify before the grand jury and was only objecting to the unrealistic timeframe in which he was being required to supply thousands of emails and documents. He said he ended up turning over the documents because he found a way to search for them that was “quicker” than he expected. Still, Nunberg admits his interviews left people with the impression he was not going to cooperate with the probe, and he milked that perception for further time in the spotlight.

“That is fair to say,” Nunberg said. “Politics is performance art.”

Nunberg repeatedly declined to answer questions about his current legal situation. It appeared his main purpose in talking to Yahoo News was to settle scores with his enemies, and also friends, beginning with Fox News.

He claimed he had “multiple requests” for an appearance from the conservative broadcast outlet, even though on-air hosts said they didn’t think he was worth broadcasting.

And if my appearances didn’t beat Fox News, they sure as hell tore into their ratings that day,” Nunberg added.

Nunberg also had some choice words for conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. On his show Tuesday, Limbaugh lambasted Nunberg as a “lunatic … disturbed individual crying out for attention” who was “obviously drunk and inebriated.” Limbaugh falsely described Nunberg as a “nonfactor” in Trump’s campaign and framed the press’s interest in him as part of a biased effort to smear the president. Nunberg countered with a reference to Limbaugh’s past troubles with prescription drugs.

He has been attacking me nonstop on his now boring, monotonous show,” Nunberg said of Limbaugh. “He is no one … to make fun of someone.”

Nunberg, who has been candid about his past issues with alcohol, is particularly disturbed by the allegation that he was drunk on air. Instead, he attributed his behavior to the excitement of doing live television.

Here was the issue in these interviews — and this is one way that I’m similar to Donald Trump — doing what I did that day gave me so much adrenaline,” Nunberg said.

Nunberg said he was particularly excited by the fact he was allowed to call in to television shows, a rare privilege that was repeatedly granted to Trump during the campaign.

I mean, who the hell would have ever thought … I would get phoners?” Nunberg asked.

He now admits to playing up the spectacle, and said these appearances were an “opportunity to be myself” in the public square.

“I’m a sarcastic New York guy,” Nunberg said, describing his penchant for showmanship.

Nunberg also disputed a report by Fox Business Network’s Charles Gasparino that he will enter treatment for substance abuse issues after Friday’s testimony.

“It was also completely inappropriate for a reporter, who is a dear friend of mine, to just announce that I’m going into treatment,” Nunberg said. “I am not going into treatment. I am not going away to some facility.”

However, Nunberg suggested he will modify his behavior in the future. First, he said he went out for drinks on Monday night at an infamous Manhattan bar to commemorate his day of press.

“I went to Dorrian’s to celebrate one of the greatest days of my life. I’m not sure if my parents think it is, but that’s a different story,” Nunberg said.

According to Nunberg, he went to the bar knowing that he would “not have a drink definitely the rest of the week.”

“There will be no more celebrating any time soon, and maybe — hopefully — never again. We’ll see,” Nunberg said.

Nunberg indicated that he wants to return to his career as a consultant after his testimony and some time keeping his head down.

“My plan is, I’m going to make a plan,” Nunberg said. “The fun’s over and I’ve got to get back to the real world. … I need to go back to … perform professionally for my clients.”

With that, Nunberg was finished and bid Yahoo News farewell. However, his exit interview wasn’t complete. Nunberg called back a few minutes later to deliver what he described as a final “line.”

I didn’t have the meltdown. I melted down the media,” said Nunberg. “But now the game’s over.”

Then, Nunberg insisted he really was finished speaking to the press — for now.

“Honestly, I’m getting a burner phone,” Nunberg said. “You shouldn’t even try calling me for like two weeks.”

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