House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes announced Thursday that he is temporarily stepping aside from the panel’s probe into Russian interference in last fall’s election and ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian officials. The House Ethics Committee is investigating Nunes’ conduct.
The California Republican, a Trump supporter, has faced Democratic calls to relinquish his chairmanship over criticism that he could not lead an impartial investigation. His announcement said he would remain as chairman, but would allow GOP Reps. K. Michael Conaway of Texas, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and Tom Rooney of Florida to temporarily take control of the investigation.
“Several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said in a statement. “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,” Nunes said. “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 eight-term Republican’s handling of information that Trump officials may have been swept up in surveillance led to calls from top Democrats, including the Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff of California, for him to step aside.
Nunes went to the White House to inform Trump before informing Schiff and other members of the committee. The New York Times reported that White House officials were Nunes’ sources of the information.
The House Ethics Committee confirmed in a press release that it was investigating allegations that Nunes disclosed classified information and violated “other standards of conduct.”
Ethics Chairwoman Susan W. Brooks, and ranking Democrat Ted Deutch said in a statement that the fact that the panel is investigating the allegations “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.”
Schiff said Thursday that he respected Nunes’ “very difficult” decision to temporarily step aside, and he looked forward to continuing to work with the chairman on other issues facing the committee.
“The important work of investigating the Russian involvement in our election never subsided,” the California Democrat said. “But we have a fresh opportunity to move forward in the unified and nonpartisan way that an investigation of this seriousness demands.”
Schiff said the Intelligence panel’s investigation never took a hiatus and Nunes’ decision to allow other committee members take the lead would “allow us to have a fresh start moving forward.”
He did not take questions from reporters.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in a statement that Nunes has his full support.
“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,” the Wisconsin Republican 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.”
Lindsey McPherson and Rema Rahman contributed to this report.