Embattled House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes temporarily stepped away from his oversight of an investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s elections, citing ethics complaints filed against him.
“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” he said in a statement released by the committee Thursday morning.
“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. 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.”
The groups Democracy 21, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and MoveOn.org have filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics claiming Nunes violated House rules by disclosing classified information regarding the unmasking of President Donald Trump’s associates caught up in incidental surveillance of intelligence agency targets.
Nunes then briefed President Trump without first disclosing his information to the committee's ranking member, California Rep. Adam Schiff, or other members of the committee. Schiff has since reviewed the documents.
Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement shortly after Nunes stepped aside.
“Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep America safe,” it said. “He continues to have that 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 process would be a distraction for the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election. Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this probe, and I fully support this decision. Chairman Mike Conaway, a senior member of the Committee, will now lead this investigation in the House. I am confident that he will oversee a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Nunes has been criticized for going to the White House to review documents he says showed intelligence agencies caught up Trump associates in their investigation of their intelligence targets, then sharing it with Trump. Nunes also cancelled a public hearing with former National Security Agency director James Clapper, former FBI director John Brennan and former acting attorney general Sally Yates.
Clapper was the first in the intelligence community to say that Trump’s claim to have been wire tapped by former President Barack Obama during the transition period had no basis in fact. Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn interactions with the Russian ambassador during the transition.