By Ken Silva
Top federal law enforcement officials have declined to answer numerous questions about Ray Epps, the Arizona resident captured on video encouraging Jan. 6 protestors to breach Capitol Hill.
Controversy has surrounded Epps in recent months due to questions about his possible connection to law enforcement. Despite video evidence of him making repeated calls for action, Epps has not been charged in relation to Jan. 6, and his photo has been removed from the government’s list of most wanted people from that event.
The Democratic-led House committee investigating Jan. 6 reportedly said Jan. 11 that it has interviewed Epps, and that Epps denied any connection to law enforcement.
But at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier that day, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were unsuccessful in obtaining answers about Epps.
Cruz asked the FBI’s assistant director for national security, Jill Sanborn, 10 questions about Epps and other potential undercover feds, none of which received substantial answers.
Sanborn admitted that she is aware of Epps, but said she doesn’t have “specific background for him.”
When Cruz asked whether Epps worked with the FBI, Sanborn declined to answer—likewise for when Cruz asked about whether federal informants participated in the riots, encouraged the riots, or removed barriers.
“I cannot answer that,” Sanborn said to each query.
Cruz pressed further.
“Five seconds after Mr. Epps whispered to a person, that same person began forcibly tearing down the barricades. Did Mr. Epps urge them to tear down the barricades?” Cruz asked.
“Similar to the other answers, I cannot answer that,” Sanborn replied.
After Cruz, it was Cotton’s turn to take a crack at the issue. Cotton asked a similar line of questions, this time directed towards Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the head of DOJ’s national security branch.
Olsen said he wasn’t aware of any plain-clothes officers among the Jan. 6 crowd, and that he didn’t know whether any undercover agents entered the Capitol.
The lack of information irked Cotton.
“Your answers are all, ‘I don’t know,’” Cotton said. “Did you prepare for this hearing? Did you know it was happening before this morning?”
Olsen also said he didn’t have any information about Epps.
“This was a man on the most-wanted page for six months. Do you really expect us to believe that you don’t know anything about him?” Cotton asked.
“I simply don’t have any information at all,” Olsen responded.
When pressed further, Olsen said he couldn’t say how many rioters were arrested for crimes related to violence, or even name a single person from the government’s list of most wanted Capitol Hill rioters. This provoked further criticism from the Arkansas senator.
“This is a hearing to mark the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, and you can’t even tell us how many people have been charged with crimes of violence. Would you go into a briefing with the attorney general and not be able to answer such basic questions?” Cotton said.
“I guess we’re going to have to seek our answers elsewhere. This was not a stellar performance.”
Towards the end of the hearing, committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) entered into the record a fact-checking article from PolitiFact, which says there’s no evidence that Epps was a federal asset.
Durbin said he never heard of Epps before Jan. 11.
Epps, for his part, could not be reached for comment. His address is listed on public court records—Jan. 6 defendant Kelly Meggs has issued a subpoena for him to testify—but a number connected to that address appears to have been disconnected. Epps also had a number listed on the page for the Arizona Oath Keepers, but a call to that line went straight to Epps’ voicemail, which was full.
Epps gave an interview to The Arizona Republic last January. He reportedly said of his comments caught on video: “The only thing that meant is we would go in the doors like everyone else. It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”
Following the hearing, right-wing pundits took to Twitter to congratulate Cruz and Cotton for their questions. Cruz had been dragged through the coals by Fox News host Tucker Carlson a week earlier for referring to the Capitol Hill riots as “domestic terrorism.”
“Constructive criticism works,” said Darren Beattie, the author of the Revolver News articles on Epps.
The Jan. 6 Committee reportedly issued the following statement shortly after the hearing: “Committee is aware of unsupported claims that Ray Epps was an FBI informant based on the fact that he was on the FBI Wanted list and then was removed from that list without being charged.
“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”