Fact check: False claim of phone calls between Pelosi's office and targeted rallygoer before Jan. 6 riot

·5 min read

The claim: Freedom of Information requests show phone calls between Ray Epps and Nancy Pelosi's office before the Jan. 6 attack

For almost a year, Ray Epps, a Jan. 6 pro-Trump rallygoer, has been falsely branded by conservative television hosts and Republican politicians as an undercover government agent who helped foment the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Epps was in the nation's capital that day to protest the 2020 election results, but video footage of Epps that weekend has been used by social media influencers to suggest he was working for the FBI, an accusation that has been debunked by the special House Committee investigating the attack.

Nevertheless, some social media users claim new evidence shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and Epps were in contact before the attack.

"BREAKING: Freedom of Information Act requests show a dozen phone calls between the cell phone of Ray Epps and the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the week before Jan. 6," reads a Facebook post shared July 21.

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A recently deleted tweet with the same claim amassed over 15,000 likes. Similar posts have spread widely on Facebook in groups with over 1,000 members.

But there is no evidence such exchanges between Pelosi's office and Epps ever occurred.

Pelosi's spokesperson said the claim is false. And constitutional law experts told USA TODAY that the claim is misleading because Congress is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pelosi's office, Epps didn't make any such calls

The claim is "complete fiction," Drew Hammill, Pelosi's spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the House Jan. 6 Committeealso tweeted on July 22 that the claim was "absolutely false" and "literally made up."

None of the posts provided any official documentation of the exchanges. In addition, USA TODAY did not find any credible news reports that Pelosi's office and Epps exchanged phone calls before the Jan. 6 attack.

The Freedom of Information Act is a statute that applies solely to the executive branch of the federal government and federal agencies, Kel McClanahan, executive director of the National Security Counselors law firm, told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. It does "not apply to Congress, the courts, state and local governments, or private entities."

The act allows anyone to obtain federal agency records except for those "protected from disclosure" under certain exemptions such as "information involving matters of personal privacy" or "inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While anyone can ask members of Congress for copies of materials, they can't "reasonably expect" anything as members can deny these requests, Tuan Samahon, a constitutional law expert at Villanova University, told USA TODAY in an email. If someone tried to sue Congress for records under the act, a "court would dismiss it for failure to state a claim," he said.

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Samahon added that if executive branch records happened to have congressional phone logs in their possession, then it is possible a Freedom of Information Act request could obtain those formerly congressional records. But assuming the phone logs claimed in the post included the names of Epps and Pelosi and the records were in the possession of the executive branch, he said the executive branch would likely assert various exemptions to redact the names of the callers or their phone numbers.

"Thus, I would be suspicious of the claim without further evidence explaining how the logs came to be in the possession of the executive branch and why exempt material wasn't redacted," Samahon said.

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As USA TODAY has reported, Epps has been falsely accused of being a "U.S. government informant who incited rioting at the Capitol."

The House Jan. 6 Committee has debunked the Epps conspiracy theory, and Epps has called the accusations "a farce."

USA TODAY has debunked several claims regarding the Jan. 6 attack, including baseless assertions that no one was arrested inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and that the FBI organized the riot.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Freedom of Information requests show phone calls between Ray Epps and Nancy Pelosi's office before the Jan. 6 attack. Pelosi's spokesperson said no such exchange happened. Experts said that because Congress is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, it is unlikely phone records between Epps and Pelosi's office could be obtained that way.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Pelosi's office, Ray Epps did not have calls before Jan. 6