Epshteyn, a lawyer by training who has also worked as an investment banker, is still one of Trump’s closest aides but has ranked some on Trump’s defense team and campaign staff who have grown frustrated with his approach, people familiar with the matter said.
On multiple occasions, other lawyers are threatened to quit if they have to continue reporting to Epshteyn, people familiar with the matter said. Many of Trump’s other lawyers, particularly Christopher Kise, have questioned Epshteyn’s judgment and legal advice, while some other advisers have grown exasperated with Epshteyn and privately mock him, the people familiar with the matter said.
Trump, however, has fully stood by him and is keeping him in a senior role.
“Mr. Epshteyn continues in his role as in-house counsel, as he assists the President in coordinating the legal efforts,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement. “Mr. Epshteyn has always been separate from the outside legal counsel team so, therefore, it is impossible for him to be taken off that outside legal team. The sources who are peddling this misinformation are blatantly lying.”
The divide between Epshteyn and some of Trump’s lawyers represents the increasing strain between the political and legal approaches to Trump’s criminal exposure. The desire to control the presidential candidate’s political impulses regarding his approach to his legal issues has ended poorly for some of the lawyers on Trump’s team. But the lawyers on the team have complained that Epshteyn overly indulged those impulses.
Epshteyn faces his own legal headaches. He expected to appear in front of the special counsel’s office on Thursday, a person familiar with the matter said. That development was first reported by The New York Times. It is unclear what the prosecutors wish to discuss with Epshteyn, who has been personally involved in both of the probes Smith is examining.
He had his cellphone seized by federal agents with court-authorized search warrants last year as part of the investigation into the Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, though he has not been publicly identified as a target in the inquiry.
Epshteyn was one of several advisers involved with the Trump team’s effort to submit invalid slates of electors to thwart or block congressional certification of President Biden’s electoral college victory.
Federal prosecutors have also started looking into a cryptocurrency linked to Epshteyn and former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, ABC News reported last month. Investigators are examining allegations of mismanagement by the duo, along with allegations that they failed to follow through on promises to donate portions of the currency to various charities.
Advisers to Trump have grown exasperated with Epshteyn’s overly sunny forecasts, according to the people familiar with the matter. Epshteyn, who speaks with Trump multiple times a day, is referred to as ‘Mr. Good News’ by his colleagues for his excessively optimistic conversations with Trump. For example, Epshteyn suggested to Trump, based on public reporting, that it was unlikely that he would face an indictment imminently — a prediction that turned out to be wrong, these people said.
“The reality that Boris sometimes turns lemons into lemonade? I disagree with that being a negative thing,” said one senior lawyer on Trump’s team, who noted that “far from everyone” in Trump’s army of lawyers has issues with Epshteyn and that Trump continued to praise Epshteyn in recent conversations.
The movement comes as another top Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran, has recused himself from the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case; he appeared before a federal grand jury last month. Corcoran is still representing Trump in other cases, such as the probe into the Jan. 6 attacks on the US Capitol.
Epshteyn often calls Trump many times a day, advisers say, and makes it a point to regularly be around him. Epshteyn was paid nearly $200,000 by Trump’s leadership PAC in 2022 for his consulting work, according to federal filings.
Advisers to the former president have been surprised by Epshteyn’s ascent in Trump’s ranks as one of his most trusted legal advisers given that he has never tried a legal case — a fact that some of Trump’s other lawyers consistently note.
His pugilistic tone in court filings has rankled more seasoned lawyers on the team who have sought to take a more measured approach to Trump’s myriad legal issues. He has also pushed legal cases, Trump advisers said, that were viewed as embarrassing and misguided by other lawyers.
He caught Trump’s attention during the 2016 presidential campaign for aggressively defending Trump’s behavior on cable news. While he took on a more limited role in Trump’s 2020 election campaign, he seized on the post-election opportunity to move back into the center of Trump’s orbit by helping to coordinate Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.
Outside the Justice Department investigation into Trump, the former president and 2024 presidential candidate is facing a slate of criminal and civil investigations. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) is leading a parallel criminal probe related to the 2020 election, and New York Attorney General Letitia James brought a lawsuit against Trump over his business dealings that is set to go to trial in October.