House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will temporarily step aside from an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including interactions between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
The move comes as the House Ethics Committee announced that it is investigating allegations that Nunes may have mishandled classified information. With the Ethics Committee now formally involved in the dispute, Nunes could no longer oversee the Russia probe, although he will remain in place as chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
The Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation will be taken over by Reps. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.).
In a statement, Nunes blamed complaints filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics over his decision to brief President Donald Trump on intelligence intercepts of conversations between Trump campaign aide and Russian officials during the election.
“Several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said in a statement Thursday. “The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power.”
Nunes added: “Despite the baselessness of the charges, I believe it is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress for me to have Representative Mike Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, temporarily take charge of the Committee’s Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee looks into this matter. I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims.”
However, Ethics Committee Chairwoman Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the ranking member on Ethics, said Nunes is under scrutiny by their panel.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct,” Brooks and Deutch said in joint statement. “The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.”
Brooks and Deutch are using the Ethics Committee’s authority to review any issue that has to to do with the integrity of the House, but they have not set up a special subcommittee to handle the matter and are under no requirement to issue any findings related to their investigation.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, said he believes Nunes’ decision will allow the committee to have a “fresh start” on its Russia probe.
“I just want to express my appreciation for what the chairman has decided to do. I’m sure it was a very difficult decision for him,” the California Democrat told reporters. “We need to get fully back on track.”
Schiff added that he would continue working with Nunes “on a whole range of other issues that our committee has to do with.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that Nunes “continues to have [my] trust, and I know he is eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws. In the meantime, it is clear that this [ethics] process would be a distraction for the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election.”
Austin Wright contributed to this report.
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