Ken Cuccinelli, the acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, is the latest Trump administration official to sit down for a softball interview with conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group. In a recent “must-run” segment for Sinclair local news stations, Cuccinelli and chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn defend a wave of recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
Cuccinelli has been making recent media appearances to promote the latest effort by the Trump administration to curtail immigration, known as the “public charge” rule. And he’s made clear the administration’s opinions about poor immigrants from Latin America and Africa by suggesting that the message of the State of Liberty ought to apply only to “people coming from Europe” who can “stand on their own two feet.” Amid waves of public criticism for his comments, Cuccinelli made a late night appearance on Fox News to defend himself and accuse the mainstream media of misrepresenting what he said.
And now, Cuccinelli has headed to another conservative media safe space: Sinclair Broadcast Group. Cuccinelli appeared in a recent interview segment with Sinclair’s chief political analyst, former Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn, that will air on Sinclair-controlled local news stations across the country. The segment did not address the “public charge” rule or Cuccinelli’s comments (it’s not clear when the interview was recorded).
In the segment, Cuccinelli and Epshteyn instead focused on defending a wave of recent ICE raids that devastated Latinx families in several Mississippi factory towns and attempting to push back on the “perception” that the Trump administration is anti-immigrant. Epshteyn ended the segment with his own commentary, saying, “What ICE is doing is not a targeted attack on people in our country. It is our government enforcing our laws. Period. Enforcing these laws and being pro-immigrant are not mutually exclusive.”
According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database, the segment has already aired on at least 46 local news stations in at least 29 states and the District of Columbia.
On August 19 and 20, Sinclair stations aired a second “must-run” segment featuring a different portion of Epshteyn’s interview with Cuccinelli in which they discussed the “broken part of our asylum system.” In this clip, Cuccinelli lamented that asylum-seekers entering at the southern border are “just making the claim to get into the system, so they’re released into the country.” Cuccinelli went on to say that Trump has tried to address this issue but has been stopped by court injunctions “that no president has ever suffered under.” Epshteyn ended the segment by claiming “liberal activist judges” don’t care about “helping solve the crisis at our southern border” because they have stopped the administration from taking unlawful actions.
According to iQ media, this second segment has already aired on at least 48 stations in 27 states. The full interview transcript has also been posted on Sinclair websites.
For more than a year, Epshteyn was the only Sinclair personality creating “must-run” commentary segments for the broadcaster to send to its stations, but in February the company added commentator Ameshia Cross to its lineup to produce segments on the same topics from a more liberal perspective. The two segments -- Epshteyn’s Bottom Line with Boris and Cross’ Cross Point -- typically air during the same local newscasts on a given station. In this case, Cross did not have a similar interview with Cuccinelli; instead she devoted her commentary-style segment to denouncing the ICE raids.
In the past, Epshteyn has regularly used his commentary segments to air exclusive softball interviews with President Donald Trump, Trump administration officials, and other members of the Trump orbit. But since Cross joined the “must-run” lineup six months ago, neither has used the segments for interviews -- until Cuccinelli’s recent appearance.
Update (8/20/19): This piece has been updated with more information and clips from the Cuccinelli interview.
Correction (8/20/19): This piece originally stated that Boris Epshteyn's title at Sinclair is “chief political analyst.” In fact, his current title is “chief political commentator.”