Nunes steps aside from Russia investigation

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Thursday said he will temporarily step aside from his committee's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Nunes said in a statement he thinks it is in the "best interests" of the committee and the Congress for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to temporarily take over the committee's investigation into the Russian interference, with assistance from Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyDem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting The Hill's Morning Report — Trump isolated and denounced after Putin meeting Ryan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' MORE (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.).

His announcement came moments before the House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into Nunes over potential "unauthorized disclosures of classified information."

"Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics," Nunes said in the 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 unmaking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power."

Nunes said he will step aside while the House Ethics Committee "looks into this matter."

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"I will continue to fulfill all my 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," Nunes said.

Many Democrats have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation following revelations that he was on White House grounds the day before announcing information related to incidental U.S. surveillance of President Trump's transition team.

He also created controversy last month when he bypassed his own committee to brief the president on information related to the surveillance.

The House Ethics Committee confirmed an investigation into Nunes in a statement Thursday morning.

“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,” the ethics panel said.

“The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.”

The statement noted that the existence of a probe does not mean Nunes broke any rules.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDem lawmaker: Putin will take Trump's attack on Mueller probe as 'green light' to interfere in 2018 The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE (Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, said he respects Nunes's decision.

"I know this was not an easy decision for the Chairman, with whom I have worked well for many years," Schiff said in a statement.

 

"He did so in the best interests of the committee and I respect that decision. I look forward to my continued work with the Chairman on the whole host of other important issues that our committee oversees every day, in our effort to make sure that the country is protected and our civil liberties are maintained."

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told The Hill that Democrats did not know Nunes’s statement was coming, noting that he learned about his stepping aside from a breaking news alert. He said Dems were not told in the committee briefing Thursday morning.

“I have confidence in Mike Conaway,” Swalwell said, noting that Conaway “needs to” get the House’s Russia investigation back on track.

"We're going to proceed with the investigation and follow every lead to its logical conclusion," Conaway said Thursday, when asked whether he would be able to see the documents provided to Nunes at the White House. 

Conaway said he had "a brief conversation" with both Gowdy and Rooney this morning. 

Earlier this week, a group of 20 House Democrats sent a letter urging Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) to remove Nunes from the committee's probe into Russian election meddling.

Ryan said in a statement Thursday that Nunes has earned his trust for his "integrity and dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep America safe."

"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," Ryan said in a statement.

"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."

Ryan said he "fully" supports Nunes’s decision to step aside in the probe and said he is "confident" Conaway will "oversee a professional investigation into Russia's actions and follow the facts wherever they lead."

Katie Bo Williams contributed.

Updated at 10:46 a.m.