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Few people speak to former president Donald Trump more these days than Boris Epshteyn.
The pugilistic communications consultant often has five or more conversations with Trump a day, advisers say, with the former president sometimes interrupting meetings with prominent elected officials to take his calls.
A lawyer by training who has also worked as an investment banker, Epshteyn, 40, has morphed into one of the most influential figures in Trump’s orbit, winning his ear on how to respond to investigations that have placed Trump in legal jeopardy unheard of for a former president. Epshteyn’s access and influence has frustrated some of the more experienced lawyers Trump has hired, because of what they see as his unnecessarily confrontational approach, his lack of relevant experience and the fact that Epshteyn’s own actions also have come under scrutiny in some of the probes, people familiar with the situation said.
At the same time, Epshteyn is also dealing with the legal ramifications of his conduct outside of work. He is on probation, according to court records, after pleading guilty late last year to disorderly conduct and fighting during a late-night bar incident in Scottsdale, Ariz. — the second such arrest in Arizona in seven years.
Epshteyn declined to answer questions on the record about those arrests, or any other topic, for this article.
He earned Trump’s loyalty by aggressively pushing false claims about the 2020 presidential election and carrying out Trump’s post-election wishes in states Biden won, according to interviews with 13 people familiar with Trump’s inner circle, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. They said he elevated his rank on the legal team handling the Mar-a-Lago documents case by flattering Trump and feeding his taste for conflict — including presenting options to take a confrontational stance toward the Justice Department while other lawyers counsel a more collaborative approach.
Federal campaign filings shows that Epshteyn has earned almost $1 million from Trump-aligned candidates — who hired him in part to sway the former president for political support, according to advisers on multiple campaigns. While Trump admires Epshteyn for his loyalty, work ethic and willingness to thrust himself into controversies on his behalf, other Trump advisers and lawyers say they fear he is a legal liability — a “sycophant,” one said, who has given Trump the kind of advice that has worsened situations.
Just this week, Trump filed a lawsuit in Florida against the New York attorney general — at Epshteyn’s urging and over protests from others on the legal team who considered it risky and frivolous, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a statement, Trump called Epshteyn “a high energy person with tremendous drive and great intelligence. He takes heat, but he usually ends up being right, and I’m very comfortable with him.”
Trump said Epshteyn was a “terrific student who went to one of the Top Tier Law Schools” and who “likes this crazy life, dealing with Radical Left Maniacs.”
Eight current and former Trump advisers said Epshteyn’s ascent through the ranks was astonishing, especially given his lack of litigation experience, although Trump often acts based on political rather than legal considerations. Epshteyn’s makeshift office is the Palm Steakhouse in downtown Washington, where he cycles through meetings ringing up pricey tabs, people who know him say. He also is a regular at cigar bars. His trademark look is a three-piece suit. He drives a navy Bentley he purchased in 2020 and has told others he likes it because it has a big B on it — like Boris.
“He was the guy you called for everything,” said former New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik, a longtime Trump ally who worked with Epshteyn to challenge the 2020 election results and described him as involved in all of Trump’s legal efforts — every lawsuit and every investigation.
“His phone is constantly busy,” Kerik said. “He’s extremely loyal. I think the president trusts him.”
In recent weeks, Epshteyn has told others that he has looked for a place near Palm Beach, where Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s winter residence and private club, is located. He has predicted Trump will be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee and said he wants to be involved in the campaign.
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Epshteyn is elated to be at the center of the action and to talk to Trump so often, those who have spoken to him say. He has joked with associates that the federal authorities may be listening to those calls but did not seem worried about it.
“I’m doing great!” he told a concerned associate recently over lunch.
Epshteyn was born in Moscow and came to the United States as a child, growing up in New Jersey, according to public records. He became friends with Eric Trump in college. After Georgetown Law School, he worked for two law firms, then for a financial services firm in New York that was later shut down by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Epshteyn, who was not personally accused of wrongdoing, is now associated with a different financial firm. He has never tried a legal case, a point regularly made by some of Trump’s other advisers.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Epshteyn became a prominent supporter of Trump on television, defending behavior including the “Access Hollywood” tapes and attacks on Gold Star families even as many other Trump surrogates were sheepish about doing so.
After the election, Epshteyn became an aide on the transition team and in the White House. But his tenure in was short — he lasted about two months in the White House and was abruptly moved from the transition to be communications director for the inaugural committee. Three Trump advisers, including one person with direct knowledge of the matter, said the White House exit came after issues gaining a security clearance and clashing with other White House aides. People close to Epshteyn said he was floated to be placed at other agencies — which did not happen.
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He found ways to stay involved: talking to Trump and other advisers, sitting in the lobby of the former president’s hotel and showing up for events at the White House. Epshteyn soon took to the airwaves with Sinclair Broadcast Group, doing a pro-Trump segment called “Bottom Line with Boris.” Trump often was shown clips and liked them.
During Trump’s reelection campaign, Epshteyn took a more limited role, advisers said, doing TV hits, mingling at campaign headquarters, traveling to some events and handling some outreach to the Jewish community. Some of Trump’s aides were annoyed by what they saw as his harebrained ideas, former advisers said. “We tried to keep him out of the middle of it,” one top campaign official said.
In the chaotic days after President Biden’s election victory, many of Trump’s advisers wanted to run for the hills. Epshteyn saw an opening. He started showing up at campaign headquarters, often with Rudy Giuliani, campaign aides who were packing up said. Soon he became a key figure in the effort to overturn the election results, and a mainstay at the Willard Hotel suite that became known as the “command center” for that mission.
Epshteyn worked closely with Giuliani and Kerik, as well as pro-Trump lawyer John Eastman and former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, serving as a liaison to other conservative lawyers and Trump allies and as a self-described chief of staff to the team. Epshteyn, Eastman and Giuliani wrangled GOP lawmakers in swing states to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to decertify the results and send them back to the states — a legal strategy devised by Eastman that has been widely discredited but Epshteyn has continued to defend.
“He was like a coordinator with an enormous Rolodex,” Kerik said, describing Trump calling Epshteyn late at night and early in the morning. “Legal, constitutional, when I was trying to get paid. If it wasn’t for Boris, I wouldn’t have gotten paid.”
The scheme to create slates of pro-Trump electors from states Biden narrowly won and send them to Pence was carried out partially by Epshteyn, former Trump advisers say. Epshteyn told The Washington Post this year that he took part in conference calls with the campaign’s legal team, including Giuliani, to discuss elector participation as part of “an overall effort to send it back to the states.”
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That effort is now being investigated by the Justice Department. Epshteyn recently had his phone seized by federal agents as part of that probe. A federal subpoena that went to more than 100 people across the country this spring — including fake electors and state officials — sought phone and email communications with dozens of people involved in the effort, including Epshteyn.
Epshteyn also had to testify recently before a Georgia grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results in that state.
When Trump wanted to overturn the election results in Arizona, he turned to Epshteyn, who decamped to the state for some time. Epshteyn worked alongside Christina Bobb, a former One America News anchor and pro-Trump lawyer, and others to push an array of initiatives, including an audit by a group called the Cyber Ninjas. He also met with lawmakers and urged House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) to pass a resolution that would allow voters to overturn election results.
“I told him straight up, ‘This is a circus. I’m not going to do it,’ ” Bowers, who lost his seat after being opposed by Trump, said in an interview. “He just kept trying to talk me into it. I said, ‘You guys have been telling me you have the proof for a year, and then nothing. I need to see some real evidence.’ ”
Epshteyn repeatedly identified himself as a member of Trump’s team, Bowers said, and mentioned that he was working with Mark Finchem, an Arizona House member who is running for secretary of state. Bowers said Epshteyn sent him more than 100 pages of material, including memos from Eastman that Bowers rifled through and quickly dismissed. The Post reviewed the materials, which showed no evidence to justify overturning the election.
Epshteyn’s willingness to champion such ideas became legendary among Trump’s advisers. As some of them emailed last year about an Arizona grass-roots lobbying effort, one of the advisers suggested it might be illegal due to state lobbying laws, people who have seen the emails say.
A second adviser jokingly wrote: “Let’s just do it and blame Boris!”
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While in Arizona last October, Epshteyn was arrested at 1:45 a.m. at the Bottled Blonde bar in Scottsdale, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and disturbance, while three other misdemeanor charges were dropped, the records show.
Epshteyn was given a suspended sentence and a fine, placed on probation, ordered to avoid contact with his alleged victim and remanded to alcohol treatment. His probation ends this year.
A spokesman for the police department did not respond to requests for comment, and the agency did not immediately provide the full police report to The Post.
Epshteyn had been arrested in Arizona for a similar bar incident in 2014, court records show. In that case, charges were dropped after he agreed to get counseling for anger management and to complete community service.
Epshteyn’s political consultancy, Georgetown Advisory, has earned close to $1 million from federal candidates and other committees this cycle, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. His clients this cycle included Katie Britt, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alabama; Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona; and Eric Greitens, the scandal-plagued former Missouri governor who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Senate in that state. Some of the candidates who paid Epshteyn did not ultimately run, such as cryptocurrency investor Brock Pierce who sent Epshteyn’s firm $100,000 before opting against entering the race for Senate in Vermont.
Payments from Trump’s Save America PAC to Epshteyn total $165,000, according to federal filings. The PAC has been paying him since April. In August and September, what had been generally a monthly payment of $15,000 increased to $30,000. Before the 2016 cycle, when he worked for Trump’s first campaign, Epshteyn had never been paid by a federal client, though he advised on John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
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A contract Epshteyn signed with one campaign includes a $15,000 or $20,000 payment per month, plus an additional $75,000 if the candidate wins the primary, and an additional $150,000 if the candidate wins the general election, according to a copy reviewed by The Post. The contract says Epshteyn will provide “knowledge and assistance related to political strategy, national and local communications, and coalition building.”
Epshteyn talked up his clients to Trump, sharing positive news articles and polling, according to Trump’s advisers, and the former president endorsed some of them. An aide on one campaign said they hired Epshteyn for just that purpose.
Epshteyn was also able to help translate Trump and his advisers for his clients and would advise campaigns before they had meetings with him, one candidate said. Epshteyn connected the Masters campaign to Bobb, who hosted an event for the candidate in April where Trump called in, according to a person familiar with the activities.
Initially, many of Epshteyn’s calls to Trump were about the 2020 election. But this year, as the controversy over classified documents located at Mar-a-Lago intensified, Trump grew furious with some of his lawyers who were urging him to return the material to the federal government. In spring, according to advisers, Trump gave Epshteyn a larger role in his legal defense team — akin to an in-house counsel.
“He came in and started giving orders,” one person familiar with the matter said.
Epshteyn helped bring in attorney Evan Corcoran, introducing him on a call with other Trump lawyers and recommending him to Trump, who hired him sight unseen, The Post has reported.
Corcoran is now under scrutiny himself for how he responded to the subpoena this year from the Justice Department — a response that in part led to the Aug. 8 FBI raid of the former president’s property.
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Epshteyn has urged a pugilistic tone in court filings about the documents, has tried to shape public relations around those filings and has called Trump repeatedly throughout the day to talk strategy, other advisers say.
That has frustrated the lawyers who actually sign the court filings, including Chris Kise, according to people who have spoken to the former Florida solicitor general.
Kise, who Trump hired on a $3 million retainer this summer, has expressed concerns about Epshteyn’s advice to others. In a brief interview, Kise said that his relationship with Epshteyn was “good” and that they talk “frequently.”
“We don’t always agree, but we have — from my perspective — a mutual respect for each other’s viewpoints,” he said.
For his part, Epshteyn has questioned Kise to Trump repeatedly, people familiar with those conversations say.
So far, Trump seems to be listening to Epshteyn. On Wednesday, there was sharp debate between Trump’s lawyers over whether to file a lengthy lawsuit in Florida court attacking New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) — a development first reported by the New York Times.
Epshteyn wanted to go forward with the lawsuit.
Some other Trump attorneys — including longtime Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten, who has battled with James in New York — vigorously argued against doing so, saying it could backfire, people familiar with the situation said. Garten declined to comment.
Late Wednesday night, Trump filed the suit and Epshteyn touted it to the world, sending it to reporters and urging them to write about it.
“Great job Boris,” Garten wrote in an email to others, including Epshteyn, according to people with knowledge of the email. “Another frivolous lawsuit. What a joke.”
Epshteyn did not respond.
Alice Crites contributed reporting.
Boris Epshteyn is increasingly influential with Trump, which worries some other Trump lawyers. – The Washington Post