Ted Cruz asked DOJ officials Tuesday about any federal agents' involvement in the January 6 riot.
Several Republicans also asked questions about the Ray Epps conspiracy theory.
Cruz's remarks came after he appeared on Fox News to walk back his January 6 "terrorist" remarks.
Sen. Ted Cruz pressed Justice Department officials on Tuesday to address a conspiracy theory that the federal government played a role in fomenting the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
"A lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal and violent conduct on January 6," the Texas Republican told top DOJ officials during a Senate Judiciary hearing on domestic terrorism, before adding this question: "Did federal agents or those in service of federal agents actively encourage violent criminal conduct on January 6?"
Cruz was referencing a conspiracy theory that revolves around Ray Epps, a Marine veteran who was seen on a video urging the crowd to enter the US Capitol building the day before the January 6 riot. Conservatives have used this video to push the idea that Epps was a FBI plant and worked on behalf of federal agents to incite the violence that took place that day.
DOJ officials did not flat out reject questions from Cruz and other Republican senators about the role of Epps or other federal agents on the ground at the Capitol. Instead, they stuck with carefully-worded replies that do leave open room for interpretation.
"I simply don't have any information at all…about that individual," Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's National Security Division, said when asked if he knew who Epps was.
Cruz also asked if there were any FBI agents present at the January 6 riot or involved in any other way on the grounds of the Capitol. "Not to my knowledge," replied Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Security Branch.
The Texas senator's questions about Epps came while remains under fire from conservatives over his public comments that the Trump mob participated in a "violent terrorist attack" when it brought last year's Electoral College certification to a halt. Cruz, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, has since tried to walk back the comments by saying his choice of words was "sloppy" while trying to clarify that he wasn't describing pro-Trump supporters as terrorists.
Cruz wasn't alone in pressing DOJ for public answers on Epps. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, another possible White House candidate, also asked the Justice Department officials about Epps and if there were any FBI agents "in plain clothes" at the riot.
"You're the assistant attorney general for national security. You run the National Security Division," Cotton told Olsen during the hearing." The Department has said that these January 6 prosecutions are one of their highest priorities. This is a 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?"
Other Republican lawmakers have also embraced the Epps conspiracy theory. Last October, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing about Ray Epps and if FBI agents played a role in inciting the violence on January 6.
On the one-year anniversary of January 6, Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia held a press conference where they insisted that the riot last year was not an "insurrection" and showed videos of Epps.