Jan. 6 Capitol riot probe dismisses claims of FBI involvement

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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather outside the Capitol as police clear the building with tear gas, in Washington, January 6, 2021.

Stephanie Keith | Reuters

The House select committee investigating last year’s deadly Capitol riot poured cold water Tuesday on a right-wing conspiracy suggesting the FBI helped to incite the invasion.

The conspiracy centers on Ray Epps, reportedly an Arizona man who said he traveled to Washington for former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally outside the White House, which began shortly before a mob of his supporters invaded the Capitol. A widely shared video shows Epps loudly encouraging a crowd to “go into the Capitol.”

Epps was reportedly on the FBI wanted list, and then was removed from it without being charged. The move bred rampant speculation from right-wing media outlets about its significance.

“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,” a spokesperson for the House panel probing the riot said in a 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 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,” the spokesperson said.

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Multiple Republican politicians have also publicly asked about Epps’ role in the riot, apparently to raise the specter of a conspiracy that government actors — rather than Trump and his supporters — provoked or carried out the attack.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised those suspicions about Epps earlier Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic terror threats.

“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,” Cruz said, pointing to a placard displaying a screenshot of an FBI website below red text reading “FBI DROPS EPPS FROM LIST.”

“A lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal and violent conduct on Jan. 6,” said Cruz, before asking two Department of Justice officials if federal agents “actively encourage[d] violent and criminal conduct on Jan. 6.”

FBI national security official Jill Sanborn replied: “Not to my knowledge, sir.”

A spokeswoman for Cruz did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the committee’s statement about Epps.

CNBC’s Sevanny Campos contributed to this report.

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