John Avlon 01072022
Avlon: We need legal accountability for Jan. 6 planners
04:13 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

The Arizona man that some right-wing figures baselessly claim was part of secret FBI plot to orchestrate the January 6 insurrection told the House panel investigating the attack that he has no ties to the FBI or law enforcement, a committee aide told CNN.

The aide provided details about the man, Ray Epps, and his cooperation with the panel, after his name came up at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. Two GOP senators referred to Epps while questioning a top FBI official about whether FBI agents infiltrated or incited the pro-Trump mob.

“The Select Committee has interviewed Mr. Epps,” a spokesperson for the committee told CNN in a statement on Tuesday after the hearing. “Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”

While Epps’ denial is unlikely to sway diehard conspiracy theorists, it carries some heft because it came in an interview with congressional investigators, where lying would be a federal crime.

Republican lawmakers and pro-Trump outlets have zeroed in on Epps to bolster their broader conspiracy theory that the FBI was responsible for the violence on January 6. Their claims about Epps have been panned by fact-checkers.

Epps hasn’t spoken out about the situation. The Justice Department and FBI haven’t commented.

The committee aide said the allegations that Epps is an FBI informant are “unsupported claims.”

Baseless speculation

The theory about Epps is based on circumstantial speculation and little – if any – concrete evidence. That hasn’t stopped Fox personalities and GOP lawmakers from pushing the idea that Epps was a central player in the FBI’s supposed false-flag operation.

Promoters of the claim focused on several videos of Epps encouraging people to attack the Capitol. They also point out that his photo was on an early FBI “most wanted” list, but was later removed. Because he hasn’t been arrested, the theory goes, he must be working for the FBI.

In one of the videos, which was filmed in Washington on January 5, Epps told a group of Trump supporters that “tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol.” This drew some positive responses from the crowd, but also some jeers, and some people starting to accuse Epps of being a “fed.”

While authorities haven’t commented, there is a plausible explanation for why Epps hasn’t been charged with a crime. Nearly all of the 700-plus defendants charged in connection with January 6 either stepped inside the Capitol building or are accused of assaulting police on Capitol grounds. To date, no evidence has emerged showing that Epps entered the Capitol on January 6 or that he tussled with police.

It is unclear why Epps’ photo was removed from the FBI poster of potential January 6 suspects.

No comment from DOJ or FBI

Top Justice Department and FBI officials have inadvertently fueled the speculation by strictly adhering to policies against commenting about ongoing investigations or about specific people who aren’t charged with crimes. Their nonresponses have become fodder for right-wing media.

At the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Jill Sanborn, a top official in the FBI’s national security branch, repeatedly declined to comment when GOP lawmakers asked about Epps. She also declined to push back on Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s suggestions that the FBI incited the Capitol riot.

On at least five occasions, Sanborn responded to Cruz by saying, “I can’t answer that.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, also brought up Epps by name. He asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen why Epps was removed from the FBI’s most-wanted poster.

“I simply don’t have any information at all, senator, about that individual,” Olsen replied.

This is the same no comment strategy that Attorney General Merrick Garland followed when he was asked similar questions about Epps and the FBI false-flag theory at a hearing last year.

CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.