Boris Epshteyn’s Clearance Problems

WaPo includes three details in a profile of Boris Epshteyn that I’ve long been pondering, though WaPo doesn’t consider their import.

First, it states more clearly than past whispers have that one of several reasons Epshteyn didn’t get a job in the White House early in Trump’s term was because of “issues [getting] security clearance.”

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.

This was a White House that gave Jared Kushner the highest levels of clearance, took a year to get rid of Rob Porter, and similarly took time before removing Johnny McEntee — and then brought McEntee back! Which is to say, the Trump Administration, which didn’t much care who had clearance, identified a clearance problem before the delayed vetting that identified Porter and McEntee as threats. And acted on it.

And yet, this is the guy that Trump — at a time he had almost no grown-ups left in his entourage — put in charge of his response to the stolen documents investigation.

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 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.

So the guy who even Trump wouldn’t give clearance to is the mastermind of Trump’s strategy to refuse to give back classified documents, some of the most sensitive documents in government.

We know that investigators find Epshteyn’s role of interest from the reporting on Christina Bobb’s interview with the FBI.

Bobb also spoke to investigators about Trump legal adviser Boris Epshteyn, who she said did not help draft the statement but was minimally involved in discussions about the records, according to the sources.

Apparently her testimony described additional contacts she had with Epshteyn.

Bobb testified to the justice department about the 3 June episode on Friday, detailing Corcoran’s role and additional contacts with Trump’s in-house counsel Boris Epshteyn, one of the sources said.

One of those contacts involved Ephsteyn calling her the night before DOJ came to Mar-a-Lago — remember, DOJ was only asked to come the night before — and telling her to show up the next day to play what was, unbeknownst to her at the time, the role of the fall gal.

She told them that another Trump lawyer, Boris Epshteyn, contacted her the night before she signed the attestation and connected her with Mr. Corcoran. Ms. Bobb, who was living in Florida, was told that she needed to go to Mar-a-Lago the next day to deal with an unspecified legal matter for Mr. Trump.

So I’m not the only one focusing on Epshteyn’s role in refusing to give documents back. FBI is too.

I point this out a lot, but I’m going to point it out again. 18 USC 793 — one of the crimes Trump is being investigated for — has a conspiracy clause that exposes those who help someone commit a crime under the statute to prosecution themselves.

(g)If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions of this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.

By all descriptions, Trump literally brought in Epshteyn precisely because he encouraged Trump to refuse to give the documents back. And the easiest way to charge Trump under 793 would be to charge him just for hoarding the documents from June 3 to August 8, the period after which he had withheld documents in response to a lawful subpoena.

As I also point out incessantly, it would be a lot easier to charge Trump if he made highly classified documents accessible to someone who never was entitled to access them. Bobb once had clearance, and by description at least, never accessed the documents herself. Kash Patel had top clearances — indeed, by his own description, he still has clearance (though he wouldn’t have the need to know). Evan Corcoran at least treated the documents like they were sensitive.

But Epshteyn was, according to this WaPo profile, not hired into the Trump White House because of clearance concerns. And he’s the guy, by all reports, in charge of Trump’s efforts to refuse to give the most sensitive documents back. That doesn’t mean he had these documents in hand. But it does mean he was part of the effort to keep them.

There’s one more puzzle that I keep raising. The WaPo notes what a ton of stories have already: Epshteyn’s phone was seized in September.

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.

By all reports, the phone was seized as part of the investigation into Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election, rather than his efforts to steal classified documents. Epshteyn, who has a JD, was part of the group of lawyers dreaming up whack theories to justify stealing the election (or dupe Trump followers into an attempted coup), but there’s no indication he was lawyering then. Instead, by description, he was doing what he has always done for Trump: organizing.

But, perhaps for legal reasons, all the profiles of Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case describe him as playing a legal role. This WaPo piece describes him serving as “in-house counsel,” for example.

FBI seized Epshteyn’s phone almost two months ago, which presumably included five months of content from the period when he has played this purported legal role in helping Trump refuse to give highly classified documents back. Yet we’ve heard nothing about a privilege fight.

That’s particularly interesting given that — after Bobb’s testimony last month — DOJ may have had probable cause to broaden the scope of any filter on Epshteyn’s phone.

45 replies
  1. Critter7 says:

    Another role for Epshteyn in the election steal attempt was ginning up the crowd, He was featured as a speaker on Bannon’s War Room Pandemic video/podcast more than 40 times between 11/3/20 and 1/6/21.

    Given Epshteyn’s closeness to Trump and that it was Bannon’s show, we can guess what he was telling the War Room audience. But I don’t know the grisly details, can’t find working links to those old Bannon podcasts.

    Rudy was also a frequent guest (what a surprise!) but not as frequent as Epshteyn.

  2. greengiant says:

    More chaos from helping Trump commit more likely to be indicted crimes. As in Trump 2024 is not the only goal.

  3. Clare Kelly says:

    Thank you for this piece, Marcy.

    I was far too easily distracted by the plethora of “former Trump advisers say”, etc., in the piece.
    Although it may be obvious, some reporters at the WaPo appear to neglect SPJ Code of Ethics advice regarding anonymous sources, which states:

    “Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.”

    I heard the sound of buses revving.

    “A second adviser jokingly wrote: “Let’s just do it and blame Boris!””

  4. Rugger_9 says:

    Boris’ failure to even get a clearance is the detail that worries me. As Dr Wheeler notes, damn near everyone else did, but not Boris (and even Flynn was blasted out early on). Flynn might provide insight regarding why Boris wasn’t brought in to Camp Runamuck (h/t Charlie Pierce). Recall that one of Flynn’s problems was that he was already known to be a Turkish agent and thus compromised. If this idea is taken further, that might mean that Boris was likewise known in the IC as another agent of Putin and the camp adults figured the optics of hiring a Russian asset while still being investigated for playing footsie with Putin might be really bad. Or, maybe Bannon hated Epshteyn, but after Bannon was let go and Camo Runmuck sank further into madness Boris was still left outside.

    As for why Boris is there now, I would speculate that he is tasked with hiding specific documents that his handlers want kept away from view permanently. The combative tone and continued efforts point to a reason beyond mulishness, and FWIW getting Boris means getting Individual-1 as well.

    This is a case where the reasoning of a decision could be very telling indeed. Individual-1’s ‘best people’ included crooks, idiots, compromised insufferable jerks, etc. but not Epshteyn who I’m suspecting really wanted something. Or, perhaps his handlers wanted Boris in a position to help (China would be a possibility here) channel insider information. There is a significant reason IMHO and we need to find out what that was.

    • Wajim says:

      I believe Boris had a prior conviction for some kind of felony (a bar fight, I think), so that could be problematic for a clearance. Of course, there could be other, more closely held concerns . . . cough

    • Troutwaxer says:

      I think you have to be very careful with your language here: Boris probably can’t permanently hide the absence of any document. The chance that by this point DOJ doesn’t know which documents are missing is minuscule, and they may even know who has them. On the other hand, there are those 47 classified and suspiciously empty file folders, in which case you probably mean “permanently remove” or maybe just steal. Or maybe Boris’s (alleged) spymasters simply want him to keep the waters muddy as long as possible, which is probably good use of a possibly spoiled asset.

      • Rugger_9 says:

        Fair points, but remember it’s pretty clear documents remain missing AND we still don’t know what’s squirreled away at Bedminster or Trump Tower. Since Boris is the designated point of contact to the Archives, he would be in a particularly useful place to misdirect and/or memory-hole items of interest to DoJ. We also don’t know all of the specific items on the list that NARA asked for, just the general descriptions.

        Combine that with the known moral compass displayed by Epshteyn, and it’s nowhere close to a radical idea.

        • Troutwaxer says:

          Boris definitely looks like one of the bad ones – I’d guess he knows the answers to a lot of the DOJ’s questions – and he might possibly have either shuffled papers around to other locations or sold them, but I’d be very surprised if the DOJ doesn’t have a little list…

      • Raven Eye says:

        DOJ could eventually identify and lay their hands on all the “missing” documents. But that doesn’t matter if copies were made.

        Let me make it clear that I’m not going down the path of suggesting (or pondering), as others have, that Trump is putting together a collection of goodies to sell to the Russians, the Chinese, or the Fredonians. But I wonder if there is a bit of a klepto thing in Trump’s personality: “My Precious…”

  5. Yogarhythms says:

    Boris, sees himself as a high roller. Self medicating sycophants can’t seem to find a mirror. “ And yet, this is the guy that Trump — at a time he had almost no grown-ups left in his entourage — put in charge of his response to the stolen documents investigation.” From Ew’s lips to DOJ’s ear. Open and notorious, WaPo claims Boris has been spewing 2020 election lies over 40 times on Bannon broadcasts. Ew further states “ I point this out a lot, but I’m going to point it out again. 18 USC 793 — one of the crimes Trump is being investigated for — has a conspiracy clause that exposes those who help someone commit a crime under the statute to prosecution themselves.” Boris’s pillow talk call late to Ms Bobb orders her presence at MAL to help the Boss. When it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck you just might be looking at a Florida duck transplanted from a Scottsdale AZ dive bar.

    • Clare Kelly says:

      Thank you for the ‘Duck test’ argument, which prompted me to look up the origin of the phrase (using my Sunday morning pass for ‘rabbit holes’). I also looked up “mulishness” (Rugger_9) and will use it in a sentence today. Maybe. I digress.

      Here is my question:
      Regarding “From Ew’s lips to DOJ’s ear.”

      Is there some reason to believe that DOJ is not fully aware of this?

      • Rugger_9 says:

        Mulishness is a term I lifted from Barbara Tuchman in the book Guns of August, in her description of Nicholas II’s autocratic nature. It’s pretty useful, actually.

        • Clare Kelly says:

          I thank you.
          I’ve used it twice today.
          (Ok, the one to a squirrel in my yard did not count).

  6. John Paul Jones says:

    I have to say, I’m not clear on the motive: why is Epshteyn is doing all this. The Post only mentions one motive, money, but the amounts involved seem relatively small, given the larger amounts that seem to be sloshing around Trump’s not-a-campaign campaign. Another motive of course might be ego (he sees himself as Richelieu to Trump’s Louis XII?) and another might be future considerations, but I would be very interested in finding out what exactly were the considerations that played into his difficulty in getting a security clearance six years ago. I recall the case of the Special Operations soldier, whose name I can’t immediately bring to mind, of Russian descent, who was seduced into spying for the Russians. Except that Epshteyn doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be motivated by any sort of patriotic feelings. Apologies for rambling, and I understand motives are always squishy, but still: inquiring minds would like to know.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Rats. The edit clock ran out on me. I meant to add: thanks to Doc Wheeler for highlighting an important detail in the story which, predictably, Dawsey didn’t think worthy of further digging. Surely at least one of his source – I think he mentioned three – would’ve been able to provide leads to help unravel why he was too toxic for the Trump White House.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yeah, let’s not overthink this and fail to prepare for the prosecution of a former president. If he ever hires a lawyer as good as those Tom Barrack hired, he might walk.

      • John Gurley says:

        There are no special privileges or immunities granted ex-Presidents in our laws. This kid-gloves treatment of Trump is entirely political.

        • bmaz says:

          Um, what “kid glove treatment”? You mean investigating fully, including investigating any affirmative defenses Trump might claim? That?

        • Troutwaxer says:

          I think the big problem for the DOJ is that Trump just keeps criming, and each time he crimes he opens up another front in what must, by now, be the biggest counter-intelligence investigation either. Then it becomes problematic to arrest him because Trump’s crimes are connected to the crimes committed by people who are new to the DOJ. Otherwise, I suspect the DOJ must have an excellent chance already to convict on something and probably multiple things… but now we get to look into Boris, and we couldn’t do that before, so let’s just let things ride a little longer.

      • Bay State Librul says:

        You are right. In the meantime, I just went out to purchase five power ball tickets as a defensive measure against the coming ochlocracy.
        Arrest Trump now while we still can.

        • Matt___B says:

          Ochlocracy ?? Is that like “organized anarchy”?

          Another oxymoron like “Volunteered Slavery”, which is both the name of a Roland Kirk album and a stated belief of Herschel Walker.

        • Waffles says:

          I didn’t know what it meant and I hadn’t looked it up, but I was just assuming it had something to do with Pumpkin Spice Pol Pot’s preferred shade of make-up.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          If I recall correctly, what Aristotle identified as the natural next stage of government when democracy degenerates.

        • ExRacerX says:

          Yep, one & the same, may he Rock In Perpetuity.

          I missed him with Rainbow, but Rainbow “Rising” is the best album they ever put out, and Ronnie’s contributions play a huge part in that. I saw him live with Black Sabbath, his solo band, and also with Heaven & Hell right before he passed away. Such a powerful and unique voice he had.

        • bmaz says:

          Rising is indeed the best Rainbow album. Easily. And the others were not bad at all. FWIW, the last time I saw Rainbow was with Graham Bonnet as their singer, but Ritchie had also picked up old DP mate Roger Glover for bass. Still a really kick ass show, though Bonnett not as good as Dio. I particularly liked Lost In Hollywood.

        • ExRacerX says:

          Yeah, Graham Bonnet’s a solid singer, but the material on “Down to Earth” is Hard Pop-Rock. It’s still a decent record, but it suffers from Blackmore’s decision to blatantly aim for hits & money. And the lack of RJD, as you point out.

          Bonnet recently recorded & toured with Michael Schenker (UFO/MSG) & can still belt ’em out.

        • bmaz says:

          Oh, I’ve seen Michael both with MSG, and with UFO. UFO was killer with Michael. Still good without him, but not close to the same.

        • Just Some Guy says:

          ‘Another oxymoron like “Volunteered Slavery”, which is both the name of a Roland Kirk album and a stated belief of Herschel Walker.’

          Walker has been plugging the same “slavery was a choice” bs as Kanye? Huh, that seems like it should be a bigger deal.

      • LeeNLP941 says:

        He would not just walk, but appear totally vindicated from every wrongdoing in the eyes of his followers, thanks to Fox & Friends. He would arise a martyr from the ashes (forgive the mixed metaphor), “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners”.

        No, prosecution has to be done right if it is done at all.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Not just *a* martyr. THE martyr. As in The Risen Christ. They seriously see him as anointed by their God.

  7. Fancy Chicken says:

    Just Wow.

    Dr. Wheeler, what you posted read like a screenplay for a mash-up of a Mob movie and a spy thriller with the loyal capo who fought his way through the ranks to get to the Don is also the inside man for Putin.

    How utterly horrific for our country if even a tenth of my breathless hyperbole rings true.

    But really, Ty Dr. wheeler for communicating the gravitas of the situation so clearly that the average person can get the problem, and shows why the FBI has to act sooner than later.

    I don’t think it an accident that Putin has been weaponizing Trump to wreak havoc on the US while it is supplying billions to Ukraine in the war it is now loosing to militarily.

    There’s your freakin’ deep-state conspiracy that the Trumpies are all about, with their Dear Leader the all purpose chaos weapon of Vlad V. Putin..

    Let’s go Garland, this is some scary shit.

  8. Savage Librarian says:

    “How Boris Epshteyn and Sinclair bring Trump propaganda to local news.” – 7/21/17

    “…the surrogate for America’s bully-in-chief developed a reputation for bellicosity. As the Daily Beast recounted, he’d pleaded guilty to assault in 2014. The House Intelligence Committee also wants to question Epshteyn, who was born in the then–Soviet Union in 1982, about his ties to the Kremlin. In March, not long after the Jewish staffer had crafted the notorious Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that omitted any mention of Judaism, he left the Trump administration amid reports that everyone at every cable news network hated him. A month later, Sinclair scooped him up as a pundit.”

    “Media Host Trump Adviser Boris Epshteyn On Russia Without Disclosing His Business Ties” – Eric Hananoki, 9/15/16
    “Epshteyn moderated an October 28, 2013, panel at the “Invest In Moscow!” conference, during which Russian government officials provided “an overview of the principal investment opportunities in Moscow.”

  9. Yogarhythms says:

    Boris’s bona fide à la FINRA 10/29/2012 Doceket/Case #2010021286901: 879Mil Brazilian Bonds + 23Bil Japanese Bonds all totally worthless and Boris lost his job. Small wonder application for security clearance applied for in 2016 is still pending.

    • LeeNLP941 says:

      OT: I’m guessing I’m not the only phonetic reader here. When I read a comment that starts with “Ew,” I hear “Ewwww” followed by a message. Not sure how this affects my subconscious reaction to the comment…

  10. Fraud Guy says:

    I’m surprised that Epshteyn didn’t get clearance; he had a lot of notes from his mother explaining why he should be excused.

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