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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!"

Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM. 

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Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
10 mins ago - Economy & Business

All about the boards

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It's been a bad week for the idea that boards of directors are bulwarks against C-suite malfeasance. On the other hand, it's been a good week for rubber stamp manufacturers.

Driving the news: The board of media startup Ozy Media chose not to investigate a blatant fraud perpetrated by one of its top executives against Goldman Sachs, which was in talks to invest in Ozy.

Updated 34 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senators grill top Pentagon leaders over Biden's Afghanistan exit

Photo: Carolone Brehman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, are testifying before Congress for the first time since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The latest: Austin said in his opening statement that military leaders began planning for a non-combatant evacuation of Kabul as early as the spring, and that this is the only reason U.S. troops were able to start the operation so quickly when the Taliban captured the city. "Was it perfect? Of course not," Austin acknowledged.

Congress must raise the debt limit by Oct. 18, Yellen warns

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a press conference at the Capitol on Sept. 23. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter Tuesday that the United States will likely begin to default on its loans shortly after Oct. 18 if Congress fails to raise or suspend the debt ceiling by then.

Why it matters: The U.S. has never defaulted on its financial obligations, and Yellen has previously warned that doing so would cause irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and global financial markets.

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