The American public may have been - rightfully - distracted by the tragic events in Parkland, Florida on 14 February, but the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections has been rumbling on in the background, with the President returning to his unprompted defensive outbursts on Twitter on Monday.
It had been an entire week since Trump had tweeted about the investigation - on that occasion, simply crying ‘WITCH HUNT!’ and quoting Judge Ken Starr - who led the investigation into Bill Clinton in 1998 which led to his impeachment for perjury - who said “We’ve seen NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION”. Needless to say, the caps were Trump’s work.
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation, which has already indicted 13 Russians and four former Trump aides, of whom three have entered plea deals involving co-operation.
And now comes another twist in the case, courtesy of former aide Sam Nunberg, who gave a pair of truly bizarre interviews to the Washington Post and MSNBC, during which he said that the President “may have done something” illegal.
However, before you all start getting too excited that the smoking gun proving Trump’s collusion with Russia has been found, the rambling nature of Nunberg’s other replies suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily rely on him as a key witness.
Nunberg was originally Trump’s political adviser before he began his run to the White House and was fired in August 2015 over racially charged Facebook posts; he and his mentor Roger Stone having lost an internal power struggle with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
He was then sued by Trump just before the 2016 Republican convention for allegedly leaking information about Lewandowski’s relationship with another Trump aide, Hope Hicks, who became the youngest White House communications director in US history at the age of just 29 in August 2017, before resigning 24 hours after acknowledging that she sometimes had to tell ‘white lies’ in her work as communications director, during closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last Tuesday (27 February).
So, you’d think this is a guy with a grudge to bear against Trump, who wouldn’t hold back from detailing exactly what that ‘illegal’ action was, right?
Well, you’d be wrong.
Nunberg stated that he would rip up his subpoena from Mueller, which includes a request to hand over emails and other documents related to President Trump and nine current and former Trump advisers - a copy of which he apparently showed to the Post - live on Bloomberg TV.
“Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday,” he said.
He then seemed to dare Mueller to then act on this refusal, telling the Post: “Let him arrest me,” before then saying to MSNBC: “I think it would be funny if they arrested me.”
He told MSNBC: “It’s a witch hunt and I’m not going to cooperate. Why do I have to spend 80 hours going over my email? That I’ve had with Steve Bannon and Roger Stone? Why does Bob Mueller need to see my emails when I send Roger and Steve clips and we talk about how much we hate people?”
Right, so therefore Nunberg must still, despite everything, be a Trump supporter?
Not so. He also said that, had Trump not won the Republican primary, “he was probably going to endorse Hillary Clinton”. He also told MSNBC: “I wanted Trump to lose. I thought it would be funny.”
He also told CNN that Trump met last year with Russian leaders inside the Oval Office, where he shared classified intelligence, calling him an ‘idiot’.
“Granted, Donald Trump caused this because he’s an idiot. Who the hell advised him to allow those Russians in the Oval Office?” he said.
He also may not be as confident about defying a subpoena as he sounds, appearing to ask MSNBC host Katy Tur what she thought would happen if he took this course of action.
“What do you think Mueller is going to do to me?” he said.
Tur responded: “I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know but given the circumstances you might be held in contempt of court.”
So, perhaps he will appear before the grand jury? And reveal that juicy information?
Well, again, not straightforward. Although he said Trump “may have done something” illegal during the election, he also added: “I don’t know that for sure.”
He said repeatedly that he believes Mueller is attempting to build a case that Trump was “the Manchurian candidate” - a term derived from a 1959 novel of the same name where the son of a prominent US political family is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy. Mueller clearly believes in this case that Trump was ‘groomed’, and then helped by the Russians to carry out their work in the White House.
Nunberg said that the line of questioning from the special counsel’s team, “insinuated to me that [Trump] may have done something, and he may very well have”.
He added: “Trump may have very well done something during the election. I don’t know what it is. I could be wrong, by the way.”
So that’s clear as mud then.