In July, when Donald Trump lashed out at Khizr Khan, the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, many Republicans joined Democrats in a kind of bipartisan show of horror.
Boris Epshteyn was not one of them. He went on CNN to make the case that Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, had used Khan as a prop.
“We all know why the Democrats had him there,” Epshteyn said about Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he attacked Trump for his views on Muslims. “It’s to obscure the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have failed at keeping this country safe.”
In August, Epshteyn was on Fox News, doubling down on Trump’s claim that Clinton was responsible for the birth of the Islamic State. “She’s the one to blame,” he charged.
And on Saturday, after the release of a 2005 video showing Trump making vulgar comments about sex and women, Epshteyn said that Trump’s ensuing apology should end discussion of the matter.
“All of this is a distraction,” he said on MSNBC. “You think the mothers of the Benghazi victims think about this banter from 11 years ago?”
'He believes in his candidate'
As Trump seems to shed defenders by the day, Epshteyn has emerged as one of his chief attack dogs and reliable TV talking heads, rivaling Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, in his talent for getting Trump’s counterattacks into the media bloodstream.
A lawyer and executive at an investment firm, he has appeared more than 100 times on major networks for Trump, his deep voice and receding hairline making him a recognizable recurring character in the reality show-like drama of the 2016 election.
Off-screen, his role has also grown. Recently, Epshteyn, 34, became a paid Trump staffer, and he often helps lead a daily conference call for campaign surrogates in which they are given their talking points.
Nicolle Wallace, who was a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush, said she considered Epshteyn a friend and admired his political skills.
“He is everything you want in a surrogate because he believes in his candidate,” said Wallace, now a political analyst for MSNBC.
Others have found his manner, which can quickly accelerate from reasonable to aggressive to dismissive, off-putting. He also has let his emotions get the better of him.
Two years ago, Epshteyn was charged with misdemeanor assault in Scottsdale, Arizona, following a bar fight. The charge was dropped after he agreed to undergo anger management counseling and perform community service.
“Boris takes a certain amount of delight in trying to bully the interviewer,” said Joy Reid, the host of a show on MSNBC, who has clashed with Epshteyn. “He sees every night as combat and he goes in as very combative.”
Three political commentators said in separate interviews that he often acted in a rude, condescending manner toward show staffers, makeup artists and others. The three, all of whom are opposed to Trump’s election, spoke on condition of anonymity because they sometimes appear on air with Epshteyn.
“Boris is abrasive,” Reid added. “That is who he is both on the air and off.”
Epshteyn said in an email that he absolutely disagreed with such remarks.
“I have utmost respect for all of the great people I have the pleasure to come in contact with,” he wrote.
A Trump campaign spokesman, Jason Miller, declined to make Epshteyn available for an interview.
“Boris Epshteyn is a tireless and effective advocate for our campaign,” Miller said in a statement, adding that he was “a positive influence for those helping to change” the country’s direction.
Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, has written that he came to the United States in 1993 at age 11. He grew up in New Jersey, where his mother was a real estate agent and his father worked as a project manager for a telecommunications company.
After the 2013 death of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., he praised the lawmaker for backing a law that helped religious minorities like his Russian Jewish family immigrate to the United States.
“Thank you, Sen. Lautenberg, for helping open the door to America,” he wrote in an opinion piece for U.S. News & World Report.
Before this year, Epshteyn was a relatively minor player in Republican politics. In 2008, he served briefly as a communications aide for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. During the 2012 election, he appeared occasionally on television as a Republican analyst.
His ascent in Trump’s campaign is tied to his friendship with Eric Trump, the candidate’s second-oldest son. Both men attended Georgetown University and he was a guest at Trump’s 2014 wedding.
“Proud to call @EricTrump a friend, speech was inspiring thoughtful and heartfelt,” Epshteyn wrote on Twitter after Eric Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention.
Epshteyn also met his wife at Georgetown, and the couple, married in 2009, recently had a child.
In his biography, Epshteyn describes himself as a managing director of a boutique investment bank. But his business career has not always been smooth.
In 2009, he became vice president for legal affairs at a small financial firm, West America Securities, in which his wife’s uncle, Charles J. Newman, held a stake. By then, the company and its chief executive, Robert B. Kay, who was a longtime associate of Newman’s, had a history of run-ins with regulators, public filings show.
As a result of an episode involving Kay, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a Wall Street regulator, took the unusual step in 2013 of expelling West America, effectively shutting it down. Epshteyn and Newman were not accused of wrongdoing in the matter.
This summer, a Texas company filed a lawsuit against Epshteyn’s current investment firm, TGP Securities.
The company, Sigma Development Corp., alleged that Epshteyn and his partner had accepted an initial $100,000 payment to help find it investors for a Disneyland-style theme park in Houston, and then failed to deliver on promises.
Epshteyn said in court filings that Sigma paid only half of its promised fee before “pulling the plug” on the project.
The lawsuit, which is ongoing, said that in seeking Sigma’s business, Epshteyn had boasted about his clout within the Republican Party and frequent television appearances.
“Epshteyn suggested that the plaintiff should Google him and watch his videos,” the filing states.
That video stockpile is growing daily. On Tuesday, after Trump declared that defections by leading Republican lawmakers had allowed him to take the “shackles” off his campaign, Epshteyn gave a preview on CNN of what lay ahead.
“He is free to be the candidate that he is, the candidate he truly is, you know, inside,” he said.