Sen. Ted Cruz grilled a top FBI official Tuesday about whether the bureau had undercover agents incite violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 of last year, focusing on whether a man named Ray Epps was a FBI plant who encouraged others to storm the building.
Epps, a former Marine, has become the centerpiece of conspiracy theories that the feds provoked the mayhem and spurred on the rioters to commit violence.
“A lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal and violent conduct on Jan. 6,” Cruz (R-Texas) told Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“My question to you -- and this is not an ordinary law enforcement question, this is a question of public accountability — did federal agents or those in service of federal agents actively encourage violent and criminal conduct on Jan. 6?” he asked.
Sanborn responded by saying she couldn’t disclose “sources and methods.”
“Ms. Sanborn, was Ray Epps a fed?” asked Cruz after stating that Epps was captured on video the night of Jan. 5, 2021 rousing people to “get into the Capitol.”
“Sir, I cannot answer that question,” replied Sanborn, who added that she was “aware of the individual,” but didn’t have “specific background” on him.
Cruz went on and stated that on Jan. 6, Epps was seen talking to rioters moments before they ripped down police barricades outside the Capitol.
Sanborn responded that she couldn’t answer whether Epps urged them to knock down the barricades.
Cruz then noted that Epps initially appeared on a poster issued by the FBI seeking information about people connected to criminal activity on Jan. 6, but was absent from another FBI “seeking information” poster distributed July 1.
“Magically, Mr. Epps disappeared from the public posting,” he said. “According to public records, Mr. Epps has not been charged with anything. No one’s explained why a person videoed urging people to go to the Capitol, a person whose conduct was so suspect the crowd believed he was a fed, would magically disappear from the list of people the FBI was looking at.”
In a statement Tuesday evening, the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot said claims that Epps was an informant were “unsupported.”
“The Committee has interviewed Epps,” the panel said in a statement on Twitter. “Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time, & that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”
Epps confirmed to the Arizona Republic in January of last year that he was in DC at the time and attended former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally.
He also acknowledged telling people to go to the Capitol, but said he did so to “defend the Constitution.”
“I’m going to put it out there. I’ll probably go to jail for it. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol. Into the Capitol. Peaceably! Peacefully! We are freedom, we are peaceful. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about hurting people,” Epps, wearing a Trump hat, said on the video that went viral.
He told the newspaper that he meant that “we would go in the doors like everyone else. It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”
Cruz’s line of questioning marks an abrupt departure from his previous view about the events of Jan. 6.
During a Jan. 5 Senate hearing, Cruz described the riot as a “violent terrorist attack” and said that anyone taking part “should be prosecuted.”
The next day, he apologized for that remark, telling Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that the description was “sloppy phrasing” on his part.
“Tucker, as a result of my sloppy phrasing, it’s caused a lot of people to misunderstand what I meant,” Cruz said. “What I was referring to was the limited number of people who engaged in violent attacks against police officers.”
“I wasn’t saying the millions of patriots cross-country supporting Trump are terrorists, that is what a lot of people misunderstood,” Cruz continued.
Cruz appeared on Carlson’s show minutes after the host did a segment about Jan. 6 that included the footage of Epps and noted that Attorney General Merrick Garland has refused to answer questions about whether Epps will be charged.
“No one has answered the question,” Carlson said. “Again, this is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a legitimate question. Why won’t they answer it? And what’s the answer?”