Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg has greeted a subpoena to testify in the Russia investigation with the kind of diplomatic flair legends are made of. “Screw that,” he told CNN. “Why do I have to go? For what?”
Nunberg, who says he has already spent several hours talking to investigators, insists he is not hiding anything. He just thinks he’s being pushed to say someone, somehow colluded with the Russians in the last election, and he says that did not happen. No doubt Nunberg will take a lot of heat over his stance, and maybe when it gets hot enough, he’ll change his mind. But his action has raised a fascinating question: What if Donald Trump wanted to do the same thing? What if special counsel Robert Mueller decides the president himself must sit down for questioning and the chief executive simply says no?
With any other president, this would be a spurious question. While a traditional prez might equivocate, delay, invoke executive privilege and so on, a flat-out refusal would seem unlikely. But Trump has already proven he is not like any other president. He ignores rules. He breaks with custom. He shatters protocols. And he has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” an unfair attempt to delegitimize his electoral win and discredit his name.
So the idea of him refusing to lend any hand — even under subpoena — does not seem far-fetched to me. And if he were to take such a stance, here is the next question: What can anyone do about it? You might say he should be arrested in such a case, but this is the president of the United States. Many of the people who would be tasked with making him comply actually work for him. So again: If Mueller eventually says, “You must talk,” and Trump says, “I won’t,” who wins?
It’s an academic question for now. Trump has not been compelled to testify, and he has not refused. Indeed, the question may never come up. But if it does, we could quite plausibly see a contest of legal might, the likes of which is rarely seen even in the big-ego, strong-will world of Washington.