Politics

Jan. 6 Panel Seeks to Debunk Unfounded Theory About F.B.I. Role in Riot

WASHINGTON — The House committee examining the Jan. 6 attack disclosed on Tuesday that it had interviewed the man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory about who provoked the violence, noting that he had denied reports he urged protesters into the Capitol at the behest of federal law enforcement agencies.

The committee said its investigators spoke in November with the man, Ray Epps, who was seen on video urging people to march into the Capitol. Some Republican members of Congress and other supporters of former President Donald J. Trump have promoted a theory that Mr. Epps was working for the F.B.I. and encouraging the attack at its direction.

As evidence, they have cited the fact that Mr. Epps was at one point listed on the bureau’s wanted list but was then removed from it without being arrested or charged with any wrongdoing.

In a statement, the House committee said Mr. Epps told the panel he is not an F.B.I. informant and was not working at the direction of law enforcement agencies when he encouraged protesters to enter the building.

“The Select Committee is aware of unsupported claims that Ray Epps was an F.B.I. informant based on the fact that he was on the F.B.I. wanted list and then was removed from that list without being charged,” Tim Mulvey, a spokesman for the House committee, said in the statement. “The Select Committee has interviewed Mr. Epps. Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan. 5 or 6 or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the F.B.I. or any other law enforcement agency.”

The Arizona Republic identified Mr. Epps last January as the man seen in viral internet videos urging Trump supporters to enter the Capitol. In one, he said: “I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested. I’ll say it. We need to go into the Capitol.”

While it remains unclear why Mr. Epps was encouraging people to go into the building, a person cannot be charged with incitement unless his statements present an imminent threat of unlawful action. The widely circulated videos of Mr. Epps talking to the crowd were taken on the evening of Jan. 5, hours before any violence occurred.

Understand the Jan. 6 Investigation

Both the Justice Department and a House select committee are investigating the events of the Capitol riot. Here’s where they stand:

  • Inside the House Inquiry: From a nondescript office building, the panel has been quietly ramping up its sprawling and elaborate investigation.
  • Criminal Referrals, Explained: Can the House inquiry end in criminal charges? These are some of the issues confronting the committee.
  • Garland’s Remarks: Facing pressure from Democrats, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the D.O.J. would pursue its inquiry into the riot “at any level.”
  • A Big Question Remains: Will the Justice Department move beyond charging the rioters themselves?

Other videos of Mr. Epps, from Jan. 6, show him moving past the barricades outside the Capitol, but there is no evidence that he went into the building or committed any crimes that day other than entering a restricted part of the Capitol grounds — an offense that has largely gone unpunished. One video in fact depicts Mr. Epps seeking to calm tensions between the police and protesters.

Mr. Epps was also captured speaking outside the Capitol with a Pennsylvania man, Ryan Samsel, just moments before Mr. Samsel pushed through a barricade in one of the first acts of violence that day.

It is unclear what Mr. Epps may have said to Mr. Samsel, who was ultimately charged with assaulting police officers. Lawyers for Mr. Samsel and others charged with storming the barricade with him have asked the government for information about Mr. Epps; another defendant has asked a federal judge for permission to subpoena testimony from Mr. Epps.

During a hearing on Tuesday of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the F.B.I.’s National Security Branch, said she was aware of Mr. Epps, but declined to give any details about who he was or what he may have been doing at the Capitol. News reports indicate that Mr. Epps is a former leader of the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers militia and, according to public records, he is the owner of the Knotty Barn, an event space in Queen Creek, Ariz.

Mr. Epps did not immediately respond to attempts to reach him at the Knotty Barn.

In recent weeks, some on the right have questioned why Mr. Epps has not been arrested, and suggested without evidence that he must have been working at the direction of federal law enforcement. Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky; Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida; Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and, on Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have all pushed various forms of those claims.

Mr. Gaetz suggested last week that the attack on the Capitol should be called a “fed-surrection,” instead of an “insurrection.” Mr. Trump, in a statement, encouraged the spread of the conspiracy theory.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a member of the committee investigating the attack, mocked the claims on Twitter on Tuesday.

Key Figures in the Jan. 6 Inquiry


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The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some people being examined by the panel:

Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. But Mr. Trump has attempted to shield his records, invoking executive privilege. The dispute is making its way through the courts.

Mike Pence. The former vice president could be a key witness as the committee focuses on Mr. Trump’s responsibility for the riot and considers criminal referrals, but Mr. Pence reportedly has not decided whether to cooperate.

Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.

Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Jordan have refused to cooperate with the panel.

Fox News anchors. ​​Texts between Sean Hannity and Trump officials in the days surrounding the riot illustrate the host’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser. Mr. Hannity, along with Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, also texted Mr. Meadows as the riot unfolded.

Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for next summer.

Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.

Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.

Jeffrey Clark. The little-known official repeatedly pushed his colleagues at the Justice Department to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.

John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.

“One more @tedcruz conspiracy down,” he wrote. “Ray Epps has cooperated and is nothing but a Jan 6 protest attendee, in his own words. Sorry crazies, it ain’t true.”

The one known F.B.I. informant who was in the crowd on Jan. 6 was a member of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys. But the informant was in the rear of the mob, not up front, and records about him show that he traveled to Washington at his own volition, not at the request of the F.B.I.

Mr. Epps is one of more than 340 witnesses who have met with the committee as it investigates the chaos that left more than 150 police officers injured and several people dead. On Tuesday, the panel issued three more subpoenas for records and testimony from three witnesses involved in the planning and preparations for the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the violence.

Two of the men subpoenaed — Andy Surabian and Arthur Schwartz — were advisers to Donald Trump Jr. and communicated with the president’s son and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, among others in the “Stop the Steal” movement, regarding the rally at the Ellipse before the violence broke out.

Daniel Bean, a lawyer for Mr. Surabian, said he was “bewildered” by the subpoena, adding that Mr. Surabian “had nothing at all to do with the events that took place at the Capitol that day, zero involvement in organizing the rally that preceded it and was off the payroll of the Trump campaign as of Nov. 15, 2020.”

He said the subpoena was “nothing more than harassment of the committee’s political opponents.”

The committee also issued a subpoena to Ross Worthington, a former White House officialwho helped draft the former president’s speech that day in which Mr. Trump falsely claimed he had won the election and encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”

Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Worthington could not be reached for comment.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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