The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol sought to dismiss a right-wing conspiracy theory by announcing Tuesday that Ray Epps, who was seen trying to egg on protesters ahead of the Jan. 6 riot, told committee members in an interview that he was not a federal agent.
The panel also subpoenaed a trio of Trump allies as it continues its monthslong investigation into the origins of the attack.
Epps has been the focus of far-right allegations that, instead of being a Trump supporter, he was working with the federal government, seeking to provoke violence.
"The Select 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 committee said in a statement. "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."
Epps was seen on video the night of Jan. 5 asking other people to "go into the Capitol" the next day before others began chanting "Fed, Fed, Fed" at him. In video from Jan. 6, Epps shouted to those nearby: "OK, folks, spread the word! As soon as the president is done speaking, we go to the Capitol. The Capitol is this direction," PolitiFact reported.
The video has garnered significant attention among some conservatives. In October, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., played it during a congressional hearing and asked Attorney General Merrick Garland whether federal agents incited violence at the Capitol.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked similar questions Tuesday of Jill Sanborn, a top FBI national security official, at a Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic terrorist threats. Asked whether federal agents or people working with federal law enforcement actively encouraged violence, Sanborn said, "Not to my knowledge."
Beyond Capitol Hill, the Epps conspiracy was featured on One America News and in Fox News host Tucker Carlson's "Patriot Purge," and mentions of it have soared online in recent weeks.
In a lengthy tweet thread, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, wrote that Epps "didn’t enter the Capitol on Jan 6, and was removed from the most wanted list because apparently he broke no laws."
"I’m pretty sure the FBI wouldn’t be dumb enough to put their own agent on a wanted list," he added. "Ray Epps has cooperated with the Jan 6 committee and we thank him."
"On the broader issue, let’s say Ray was an agent (HE IS NOT), the premise is that one agent can gin up a crowd to insurrection," Kinzinger wrote. Referring to Cruz, he added: "That isn’t saying much about the intelligence of your voters is it Ted? The rioters had formal education, owned businesses etc. they knew."
Meanwhile, the House committee subpoenaed Andy Surabian, Arthur Schwartz and Ross Worthington on Tuesday. The panel is seeking information about any conversations Surabian and Schwartz — prominent strategists close to Donald Trump Jr., the former president's eldest son — may have had with organizers and speakers at the rally that took place shortly before the attack on the Capitol. The committee wants details about the role Worthington, a former White House speechwriter, may have played in crafting the former president's address to a crowd of supporters on the day of the riot.
"We have reason to believe the individuals we’ve subpoenaed today have relevant information and we expect them to join the more than 340 individuals who have spoken with the Select Committee as we push ahead to investigate this attack on our democracy and ensure nothing like this ever happens again," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.
Daniel Bean, an attorney for Surabian, said his client plans to cooperate "within reason," although "we are bewildered as to why Mr. Surabian is being subpoenaed in the first place."
"He had nothing at all to do with the events that took place at the Capital that day, zero involvement in organizing the rally that preceded it and was off the payroll of the Trump campaign as of November 15, 2020," he said, adding, "We believe this is nothing more than harassment of the committee’s political opponents and is un-American to the core."
Schwartz and Worthington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.