Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who became embroiled in controversy after secretly meeting at the White House to receive intelligence reports, announced Thursday that he is temporarily stepping down from his committee’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Nunes will remain chairman of the committee, but will temporarily step aside from the probe, he said in a statement. Rep. Mike Conway will replace him as the head of the intelligence committee on this matter, with help from Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney.
“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.
Nunes came under fire after he bypassed members of his own committee to brief the White House and the press on information he had received that members of the intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of the Trump transition team after the election. The meeting took place on White House grounds, and the New York Times later reported that the sources providing him with the information were members of the Trump administration.
The House Ethics Committee said in a statement it is investigating Nunes’ actions to determine if he disclosed classified information.
After the news broke, complaints were filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who was among those calling on him to step aside, insinuated he was colluding with the White House.
Schiff said in a press conference after Nunes had announced his decision that it was in the best interests of the committee and he looks forward to working with him on other issues the committee is working on. “It will allow us to have a fresh start moving forward. This investigation is of such critical importance that we need to get fully back on track.”
Nunes called these allegations “baseless.”
“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said. “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.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday in a statement that Nunes has his trust, and he fully supports his decision to step aside. “I think Chairman Nunes wants to make sure this is not a distraction to a very important investigation,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference.