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Screenshot: MSNBC

MSNBC dubbed it "a historic interview." CNN's Jake Tapper called it "a wild edition of 'The Lead.'" Drudge's banner headline, with a cable screengrab: "cRaZy!"

Here's what it was: A sad, epic meltdown — a troubled Trump flunky, pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame. 

Sam Nunberg, an early Trump campaign aide who was fired in 2015 but has remained a vocal alumnus, melted down cable interview by cable interview yesterday as he declared his refusal (later retracted) to comply with a subpoena by special counsel Robert Mueller.

  • Finally, CNN's Erin Burnett said during an on-set interview with Nunberg: "Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath. ... I know it's awkward."
  • Nunberg replied he hadn't consumed anything "besides my meds — antidepressants. Is that OK?"'

In a cry for help, Nunberg kept trying to top himself, giving longer and longer interviews (including a call-in to cable's NY1 in New York!).

  • Nunberg provided the subpoena anonymously to Jonathan Swan over the weekend, then gave it on the record to the N.Y. Times' Maggie Haberman, then waved the wrinkled subpoena on-air with MSNBC's Ari Melber, with a close-up shown on air.
  • And he contradicted every piece of news he made, telling AP last night: "I'm going to end up cooperating with them."

Why it matters: This is one of the reasons America hates the media. Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself — live. 

One of Nunberg's friends was furious, telling Axios that the anchors were knowingly taking advantage of an obviously fragile man.

  • The friend, who refused to be named but interacts constantly with journalists, texted an anchor during a live interview: "What the hell is wrong with you people? ... Shame on you. This isn't news."

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, wrapping up the madness under a "Nunberg's meltdown" headline in his Reliable Sources newsletter last night, posted this question for his colleagues:

  • "Now an ethical debate is raging in journalism circles. If your source seems drunk or drugged or just plain out of his mind, what is your responsibility?"

Last night on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell asked fellow host Melber: "Did you smell alcohol on Sam Nunberg's breath? Was he drunk?"

  • Melber replied: "I did not ascertain that ... I do think that it's quite clear from his conduct ... that there is something going on with him ... That may be the strain and pressure that comes from a situation like this."
  • Melber added: "The obvious significance here is ... it's very rare to hear the names and details of a grand jury subpoena leaked."

Be smart ... Swan tweeted: "Nobody who knows Sam thinks he has anything interesting to offer Mueller. But his friends are worried about him."

  • "There's nothing funny about it. ... We are watching a man with serious problems unravel on live TV. It's messed up."
  • And Haberman tweeted: "Nunberg TV is guaranteed to do two things - aggravate Mueller and infuriate Trump."

Flashback ... Swan tweet after news broke that Nunberg would talk to Mueller: "Fearless prediction: this one meeting with Mueller will spawn more copy citing 'a source with knowledge' than any meeting to date."

  • "Reporters who’ve never written a Mueller story in their lives will burst out of the gates with colorful, rich, detailed accounts of the inner workings of the Russia investigation. Behold!"

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Go deeper

Why companies aren't paying more

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If companies raised pay high enough, then maybe they wouldn’t complain about labor shortages that have forced them to forgo sales. But there seems to be a limit to how much a company is willing to pay, despite what seems like a clear opportunity to maximize the top line.

Why it matters: Companies have been scrambling to staff up amid a rapid economic recovery. Employers across industries have been raising wages in their efforts to be competitive.

Business travel might be going out of style

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies have made it a year and a half mostly without traveling for work — and now more and more of them are considering dramatically reducing business travel to slash costs and cut carbon emissions.

Why it matters: Business travel is a massive part of the global economy — with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs at airlines, hotels and travel agencies hinging on its return.

Local Florida leaders eye ways to take on DeSantis' anti-mask stance

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With Florida at the forefront of the nation's COVID surge, local governments across Tampa Bay are wondering if — or how — they can subvert Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration to do something to slow the spread.

Why it matters: A day after Florida broke its record for daily cases, it did the same for the total number of COVID hospitalizations — set way back in July 2020, per the AP.

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