House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced Thursday morning that he is temporarily stepping aside from leading a committee probe into Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential elections.
He said he was doing so after several “leftwing activist groups” filed false accusations against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics, but that he would stand aside from the Russia investigation until it is resolved.
He said in a statement he was temporarily handing over the investigation to committee members Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Tom Rooney (R-FL). Gowdy led a congressional investigation into the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he continued to have trust in Nunes.
“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. 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,” he said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The accusations come after Nunes last month announced he saw evidence that members of President Trump’s transition team had their names “unmasked” — or revealed — during the course of U.S. intelligence surveillance on foreign targets.
Unmasking refers to revealing the identities of Americans who are otherwise protected from having their identities known when they are incidentally caught up in surveillance.
A private conversation held between Trump’s then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was illegally leaked to the Washington Post in February.
Earlier this week, blogger Mike Cernovich, Bloomberg View, and Fox News revealed it was former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice who had requested the unmasking.
Rice did not deny doing so, but said it was not politically motivated and denied leaking anything.
“I leaked nothing to nobody,” she said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“The allegation is that somehow Obama Administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That is absolutely false. I was the national security advisor. My job is to protect the American people and the security of our country,” she said.
Nunes’ full statement:
“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. 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.”