Feds prepare ‘disclosure’ on figure at heart of pro-Trump Jan. 6 conspiracy theory

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The Justice Department is compiling information to share with defendants about Ray Epps, an Arizona man who has been the focus of Jan. 6 conspiracy theories pushed by former President Donald Trump, his allies in Congress and right-wing media figures.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin said in court on Tuesday that she intended to provide a “disclosure” about Epps, a former Oath Keeper, in response to requests by Jan. 6 defendants accused of leading the breach of police lines — including Ryan Samsel, who briefly huddled with Epps before charging the barricades.

Epps, who was seen on video on Jan. 5, 2021, urging Trump supporters to go “into the Capitol” — adding that they should be “peaceful” — became the focus of conspiracy theories pushed by right-wing media outlets.

Epps, they noted, was not arrested despite being toward the front of the riotous crowd. And although his face initially appeared on a list of unidentified suspects, it was removed months after the breach. That led to unsupported claims that Epps was a government informant.

There’s no evidence that Epps has any government ties, but the theories proliferated and were even raised by House and Senate Republicans during hearings featuring top Justice Department and FBI officials, who adhered to strict policies not to confirm or deny the identity of informants. The speculation grew so wildly that the Jan. 6 select committee called Epps to help douse the flames.

A spokesperson for the committee said Epps testified that he had never been an informant for the FBI and wasn’t working for any law enforcement agency when he attended the protests at the Capitol on the day Congress was set to certify the electoral votes of the 2020 presidential election. Epps has not been charged.

However, defense attorneys for others accused of crimes on Jan. 6 have demanded details of what Epps did that day and of his connection, if any, to law enforcement.

At a court hearing on Tuesday, Rochlin, the prosecutor handling one of the Capitol riot conspiracy cases, said the government was preparing something aimed at satisfying those requests.

"What I can … tell the court is that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been working on a disclosure pertaining to Mr. Epps,” Rochlin said, adding that she thought the information would be ready to send to defense lawyers in, “give or take, another week or two.”

Rochlin, who is based in Miami and is one of dozens of prosecutors from across the country pitching in on Jan. 6 cases, added that the government's effort to gather relevant information did not mean that the prosecution agreed that any informants present at the Jan. 6 events in Washington were “fomenting rebellion,” as defense lawyers have suggested.

An attorney for Epps, John Blischak, declined to comment on the planned transmission of information to those fighting Jan. 6 charges. However, the lawyer said Epps had been completely candid with the House panel.

“Mr. Epps provided a full disclosure to the House committee,” Blischak told POLITICO.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, which is overseeing the Jan. 6 prosecutions, also declined to comment.

The claims about Epps stem from videos taken on Jan. 5, 2021, showing him urging allies of Trump to “go into the Capitol” — an exhortation that some in the crowd quickly booed and responded to with chants accusing Epps of being a “fed.” Epps quickly added that it should be done “peacefully.”

Trump himself amplified the claims about Epps by mentioning him by name during a rally in Arizona two months ago.

“How about the one guy — ‘Go in, go in, get in there, everybody’ — Epps — ‘get in there, go, go, go,’” Trump said. “Nothing happens to him. What happened with him? Nothing happens.”

However, a Republican member of the House investigative panel said claims that Epps was an FBI instigator were nonsense.

“Ray Epps has cooperated and is nothing but a Jan. 6 protest attendee, in his own words,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted in January. “Sorry crazies, it ain’t true.”

During the 90-minute video conference hearing on Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Jia Cobb, there was little discussion of the substance of Epps’ involvement in the events of Jan. 5 and 6.

However, Kobie Flowers, an attorney for Samsel’s co-defendant Paul Johnson, said he viewed the records on Epps “and other folks who have not been charged publicly” as critical to the pending case.

“That information … is extremely important in the preparation of our defense,” Flowers said.

Cobb asked prosecutors whether the Epps-related information could be shared with other defense attorneys in the case. Rochlin said it should be available to defense lawyers who request it.