Social media posts claim documents released under a law requiring public access to information show former House speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke by phone with Ray Epps, a man frequently mentioned in conspiracies surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. This is false; there is no evidence such records exist and only the executive branch is legally required to comply with freedom of information requests.

"BREAKING: Freedom of Information Act requests show a dozen phone calls between the cell phone of Ray Epps and the office of Speaker Pelosi in the week before #January 6," says a March 9, 2023 tweet.

RTL

Screenshot of a tweet taken March 22, 2023

Examples of the claim appeared elsewhere on Twitter and other social media platforms including Facebook and TikTok, several dating back to 2022.

Epps, a supporter of former president Donald Trump who was filmed at the Capitol insurrection, has been the subject of conspiracy theories since 2021. They include false claims that he was an undercover agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) conducting a "false flag" operation.

Groundless claims of "false flag" operations, which refer to political or military action that is carried out with the intention of blaming an opponent, often follow high-profile tragedies like mass shootings.

Pelosi, who has kept her seat as representative for California's 12th District, is also frequently the subject of online misinformation.

Claims connecting the two were dismissed in 2022 by Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republican members of the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 attack, who tweeted: "Absolutely false, literally made up."

A resurgence of these posts comes several months after the release of the committee's final report and as Trump awaits an indictment decision, in an unrelated criminal case.

Similar to many of the social media claims about the attack at the US Capitol, these posts targeting Epps and Pelosi are false.

AFP found no evidence phone records released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request exist.

Requesting records

FOIA provides the public a means to access federal government records. Any citizen can request information relating to the executive branch of government and those entities are then obligated to provide copies of those records.

"Federal FOIA only applies to the executive branch and not to the legislative branch (Congress)," Gunita Singh, a staff attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told AFP on March 22, 2023.

Mason Kortz, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, said the fact that FOIA does not apply to Congress should not be thought of as an exemption, but as a limitation of the law.

"FOIA applies to 'agency records,'" he said on March 23. "Courts have understood 'agency' to mean administrative agencies of the federal government, a definition that does not include Congress."

Congress applied FOIA to agencies, but lawmakers themselves are not subject to the regulation, said Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law.

"The internal workings of congressional offices are not public records nor is there a mechanism by which they can be requested in the way FOIA allows anyone to request records from federal agencies," he said on March 22.

Although Congress does impose some transparency on itself, the requirements are narrow, and do not extend to phone records, he said.

"Among the records that are made public are records of official action (bills, committee reports, and the like), transcripts of open, official sessions of either house and its committees, and required public financial disclosures made by individual members that Congress imposed on itself by statute," Fenster said.

The terms of the regulation are also made clear in documents published by the US Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Congressional Research Service.

AFP reached out to Pelosi's office for comment but a response was not forthcoming. Her spokesman Drew Hammill has told other fact-checking organizations the claim was "absolutely false."

AFP has debunked other claims about the attack on the Capitol here and here.