During Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic terrorism threats one year after Jan. 6, Sen. Tom Cotton grilled National Security Division Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department over his apparent lack of answers to numerous questions Cotton asked, including why Ray Epps was removed from the FBI's most wanted page.
"Mr. Olsen, I got to say your answers to many questions today are disappointing because they boil down to essentially 'I don't know.' Did you prepare for this hearing? Did you know this hearing was happening before this morning?" Cotton asked.
"Yes. I prepared extensively. Senator I — many of the questions are about specific inform — specific facts that I don't have —" Olsen said. "I feel one of the most important points that I would emphasize is, you know, it's against a general, general matter. It's not appropriate to comment on ongoing investigations."
"I'm not — I didn't ask you about an ongoing investigation. I just flipped to the cover of my binder here. It says the title of this hearing is the domestic terrorism threat one year after Jan. 6. The Attorney General has repeatedly said this is one of the department's highest priority," Cotton said.
"You're testifying and hearing about the domestic terrorism threat when you're after Jan. 6; you can't answer questions about how many people have been charged for events arising out of Jan. 6. Would you go into a briefing with the Attorney General, your, boss and not be able to answer such basic questions?" he continued.
Leading up to Cotton's comments on Olsen's lack of answers, he questioned the Assistant Attorney General about the number of plainclothes FBI or Department of Justice officers that may have been at or inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Olsen responded that he did not know whether plainclothes officers were at or inside the building that day.
In response to Cotton's comment that Olsen couldn't even answer how many rioters were charged in connection to actions that day, Olsen said that "Over 700 People have been charged in connection with January 6, about 325 have been charged with serious felonies in connection with attack on —" before being cut off by Cotton.
"10 minutes ago Senator Cruz asked you this series of questions and you didn't have the answer. You didn't have the answer for how many people have been charged with violence offenses or non violent offenses and so on and so forth. Have you been given an answer in the last 10 minutes?"
"I'm sorry if I misunderstood Senator but I believe that Senator Cruz was asking me about other events not Jan. 6," responded Olsen.
Cotton continued on to ask about Ray Epps, reflecting similar questions asked by Sen. Ted Cruz to Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the National Security Branch of the FBI.
"Okay. Let's turn to another issue that came up earlier today, Ray Epps. During the Jan. 6 riots last year, Mr. Epps was caught on video several times. He seemed to encourage people to enter the Capitol, to break down police barriers. Video from the rallies — from the rally down the National Mall earlier that day shows him doing the same thing. Video even from the night before, shows him encouraging people to enter the Capitol," said Cotton.
"Ray Epps lives in Arizona, he didn't exactly go underground after Jan. 6, even gave an interview to local media, and he was well known to the Department of Justice. He was on the FBI's Capital riot Most Wanted page just days after Jan. 6," said Cotton, noting that Epps was one of the first 16 people added to the most wanted page of the Department of Justice's website after the riot.
"It does not appear that he's been arrested or charged any offense in July. Without explanation he was removed from the FBIs Most Wanted page, Mr. Olson who is Ray Epps, and why was he removed from the FBI's most wanted list?" he asked.
"Senator, I don't have any information about that individual I would differ to Ms. Sanborn for any additional information," said Olsen.
Cotton continued on to question why the Assistant Attorney General would not have any information on a man that was on the most wanted page for six month.
"So this gets back to what I — I made earlier about asking if you prepare for this hearing. You're the Assistant Attorney General for National Security. You run the National Security Division. The Department has said that these Jan. 6 prosecutions are one of their highest priorities. This the man who was on the most wanted page for six months. Do you really expect us to believe that you've never heard of the name of Ray Epps, you don't know anything about him?" Cotton asked.
"I simply don't have any information at all Senator about that individual," said Olson.
Cotton further pressed Olsen, asking whether he could name a single person that was on the Capitol riot's most wanted page, to which Olsen said he was "not familiar" with it.
"I guess we're gonna have to seek our answers elsewhere. But this has not been a stellar performance today," Cotton concluded.
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