Trump’s ‘Wartime Consigliere’ Now Faces Legal Peril of His Own

Boris Epshteyn, who was arraigned Tuesday on election interference charges in Arizona, has played many roles for former President Donald J. Trump.

A college friend of Mr. Trump’s son Eric at Georgetown University, he would become a swaggering TV surrogate for the 2016 Trump campaign before eventually serving as Mr. Trump’s unofficial chief fixer and legal strategist. When Mr. Trump was convicted in New York last month on 34 felony counts, Mr. Epshteyn (pronounced EP-stine) was at his side, huddling with the former president and other aides after the verdict.

He routinely surfaces as a lesser character in Trump-related indictments, court records show. Election cases in Georgia and Wisconsin identify him as “Individual 3” and “Individual A.” In one federal case pending against Mr. Trump, he appears as “Person 5.” In another, his email traffic matches that of “Co-conspirator 6.”

But in Arizona, he is getting a featured role. His indictment there stems from work he did behind the scenes to try to keep Mr. Trump in power after his 2020 election loss. Shepherding a small group of advisers, he helped oversee a plan to deploy fake electors in seven battleground states lost by Mr. Trump, documents show.

“Boris does two things,” said Timothy Parlatore, a lawyer who once represented Mr. Trump but departed largely because of clashes with Mr. Epshteyn. “He coordinates the legal teams and he acts as an emotional support animal to the president. He’s Mr. Good News. He loves telling the president what he wants to hear. And he does that in a way so that he can maintain control over the legal teams — to the president’s detriment, in my opinion.”

Mr. Epshteyn, who pleaded not guilty, is among 18 people charged in Arizona, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, and Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff. The defendants all face nine felony counts, related to fraud, forgery and conspiracy.

A total of 51 Trump allies, and Mr. Trump himself, are now facing charges in five states related to election interference; a number of others have either pleaded guilty or reached cooperation agreements.

Mr. Epshteyn, 41, declined to comment on the Arizona case. But he has talked in the past about his actions in Arizona. In a podcast interview in 2021, he said that he was at the White House on the morning of Nov. 4, 2020, and “deployed to Arizona about 36 hours later.”

At the time of the interview — nine months after President Biden took office — Mr. Epshteyn was still calling for the Arizona election results to be decertified. He also warned on the podcast that the political future of the state’s attorney general at the time, Mark Brnovich, a Republican, would be at risk if he did not “go after Katie Hobbs,” a Democrat who was then Arizona’s secretary of state.

Mr. Epshteyn was later charged by Mr. Brnovich’s Democratic successor, Kris Mayes, and narrowly avoided being charged in the election case brought last year in Atlanta, documents show.

Separately, Justice Department prosecutors seized Mr. Epshteyn’s cellphone and interviewed him over two days as they gathered evidence for the federal election case they brought last year in Washington. Only Mr. Trump has been charged.

In Arizona, Mr. Epshteyn is unique among the defendants in retaining a continuing role as a central Trump adviser, with as deep a view into his legal strategy as anyone on his staff. The far-right pundit Stephen K. Bannon, an ally, calls him a “wartime consigliere,” while Mr. Trump sometimes jokingly refers to Mr. Epshteyn as “my psychiatrist.” “There’s no better defender of President Trump and the America First Agenda,” said Steven Cheung, the campaign’s communications director. “Boris is a key member of the president’s team, contributing across legal, political and communications fronts.”

But some seasoned lawyers in Mr. Trump’s orbit during his presidency viewed Mr. Epshteyn as yet another adviser who was not adept at keeping himself, or his client, out of trouble — “an idiot,” as Eric Herschmann, a former deputy White House counsel once put it in an e-mail to other lawyers.

Mr. Epshteyn emigrated from Moscow with his family when he was 11 and honed his English in central New Jersey. Classmates at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, outside of Princeton, voted him “most likely to be famous” and remember him as a particularly voluble member of the Model U.N. and mock trial teams.

He was also a nose tackle on the football team with a strong working knowledge of the “Rocky” franchise. He once corrected a reporter on the origin of a quote he likes, noting that it came from “Rocky Balboa” and not from another sequel, “Creed.”

The quote in question speaks to a certain Trumpian ethos: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Following his graduation from Georgetown Law, Mr. Epshteyn tried corporate law before moving on to an array of political and business pursuits, including a stint on the McCain-Palin campaign. In 2013, he was one of three directors who took over a nonprofit cancer research lab in Massachusetts whose swift demise under their watch garnered local headlines. One local lawmaker later referred to Mr. Epshteyn and his partners as “flim-flam guys,” while Dr. Lynn Hlatky, who ran the lab, accused them in a lawsuit of the “dismantling and deterioration of groundbreaking cancer research.” Mr. Epshteyn’s group denied the claims and a settlement was ultimately reached.

In 2016, an investment firm Mr. Epshteyn was affiliated with, TGP Securities, was sued by a Texas company called Sigma Development Corporation. The plaintiff alleged that Mr. Epshteyn and a business partner had accepted an initial $100,000 payment to help find investors for a theme park. According to the suit, Mr. Epshteyn did little more than brag about his Republican Party connections and urged the plaintiffs to watch clips of his TV appearances. TGP disputed the allegations and a settlement was ultimately reached.

Mr. Epshteyn also did political consulting work for other candidates after the Trump presidency; in 2022 he was hired by Carl Paladino, a Republican businessman who made a failed run for governor of New York. Mr. Paladino later criticized Mr. Epshteyn as “totally useless,” though some former Paladino aides have said that Mr. Epshteyn did provide advice and assistance to their campaign.

At the start of the Trump administration, he briefly worked at the White House until an issue arose with his security clearance. (Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign said in a statement that the “issue was resolved.”) He left after a few months, but his role in Mr. Trump’s orbit would only grow.

After the 2020 election, Mr. Epshteyn was among senior aides “taking the lead” in overseeing the deployment of fake electors in swing states, according to an internal email sent at the time by Kenneth Chesebro, a Wisconsin elections lawyer who was one of the main architects of the plan. The fake electors were to meet on Dec. 14 and sign certificates falsely claiming that Mr. Trump had won their states.

Mr. Epshteyn’s email and text traffic, obtained from various inquiries, shed further light on his involvement. A little over a month after the election, on Dec. 9, 2020, he texted Mr. Chesebro, who had proposed to the Trump campaign an unusual plan to challenge the election results.

Mr. Epshteyn said he was passing on a question from Mr. Giuliani, who was spearheading efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power.

“Do you think you could prepare a sample elector ballot for Wisconsin,” he wrote, essentially asking Mr. Chesebro to draft something that could be signed by Wisconsin Republicans posing as presidential electors, according to the Arizona indictment. Mr. Epshteyn soon asked Mr. Chesebro if he could do the same for “PA, Georgia, Michigan, AZ, Nevada and New Mexico” — all swing states that Mr. Trump had lost.

“Oh absolutely,” Mr. Chesebro replied. And with that, the plan was in motion.

Mr. Epshteyn asked Mr. Chesebro for a memo outlining the vice president’s powers during the joint session of Congress scheduled for Jan. 6, calling it “vital to have.” On Dec. 13, a day before the official electors would meet to cast their votes for Mr. Biden, Mr. Epshteyn checked that plans were set for fake electors to convene in seven states.

“Are we good for all the voting tomorrow” he asked Mr. Chesebro.

The next day, after Mr. Chesebro told him the fake electors were meeting in Wisconsin, Mr. Epshteyn texted: “Boom.”

Mr. Epshteyn already has a criminal record in Arizona: He was arrested twice at Scottsdale bars, after a fight in 2014 and after being accused of groping two women in 2021. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in both cases.

The convictions were set aside, but in Arizona they remain on his record, meaning they could come into play during a potential sentencing.

In the 2021 podcast interview, which took place a few days after his second arrest, Mr. Epshteyn suggested that Mr. Trump could be reinstated.

“What I believe is going to happen is that when we have Arizona decertified, Pennsylvania decertified, Georgia decertified, potentially Wisconsin, Michigan decertified, this is going to go right to the Supreme Court,” he said. “The Supreme Court is going to decide, how do you handle a stolen election?”

Invoking the Senate candidacy of Mr. Brnovich, he said the attorney general “better start doing the right thing” and called for him to “go after” a wide swath of public servants because “an election was stolen.” Three months later, Mr. Epshteyn was being paid a monthly retainer by Blake Masters, who would beat Mr. Brnovich in a primary after a Trump endorsement but ultimately lost to the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mark Kelly.

As Mr. Trump plotted his political comeback, Mr. Epshteyn re-emerged in his world in 2022. As investigations of Mr. Trump heated up, Mr. Epshteyn would oversee his various defense teams, where more experienced lawyers were taking the lead.

“He’s not involved in plotting strategy or tactics, but he’s coordinating what everyone is doing,” said Steve Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead attorney in Georgia, who said he gives Mr. Epshteyn a heads up on public statements he makes. “He’s up to snuff on everything that’s going on.”

By the middle of 2022, Mr. Epshteyn was recruiting lawyers to deal with the classified documents inquiry, according to recently unsealed court filings from last year. He tapped one lawyer at the last minute to meet with the F.B.I., even though she knew nothing about “the subpoena or the location of” responsive documents, court filings say.

One statement issued by the lawyers said all classified documents had been returned but proved untrue. Prosecutors have also pointed out that Mr. Epshteyn had a phone conversation with Mr. Trump shortly before numerous boxes of records were moved from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago to Mr. Trump’s residence there, though it’s unclear what was discussed.

As the indictments of Mr. Trump started coming in last year, Mr. Epshteyn’s compensation grew to $53,500 per month, from $20,000. Among the lawyers recruited was Todd Blanche, a former federal prosecutor who had represented Mr. Epshteyn; he would lead the defense in Mr. Trump’s recent Manhattan fraud trial that ended in the former president’s conviction on all 34 felony counts.

Mr. Epshteyn emerged as a courthouse fixture during the trial, a role he only assumed the day after his own indictment. Like much else, his view of the Manhattan case closely echoed those of his boss.

“This whole canard,” he said earlier this year, on another podcast, “is one big conspiracy by Crooked Joe Biden and his hacks and thugs.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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