The head of the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has said he will temporarily step aside from his role leading the committee’s investigation of Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Devin Nunes (Republican-California) on April 6 said he was recusing himself from the investigation because of complaints of impropriety that have been filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
He blamed "left-wing activist groups" for the ethics complaints, calling them false and politically motivated. He said he was stepping aside to address the ethics complaints.
Congressman Mike Conaway (Republican-Texas) will take over the leadership of the House committee's investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the election and any potential links to the campaign team of U.S. President Donald Trump. Nunes said he will continue his other work with the committee.
The ethics complaints against Nunes stem from a controversial series of actions he took on March 22.
After viewing intelligence reports at a secret White House meeting, he held a news conference to discuss the information. He then said he went back to the White House to brief Trump.
He said some of the information he'd been shown supported Trump's claims that he had been under surveillance by the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama -- two days after FBI Director James Comey told Congress that no such surveillance took place.
Many Democrats and even some Republicans criticized Nunes's contacts with the White House while he was leading an investigation that involved the Trump team, prompting calls for him to recuse himself from the probe.
Nunes, who himself served on the Trump presidential transition team in 2016, had resisted calls to step down until now.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican-Wisconsin) said he supports Nunes’s decision because the ethics questions "would be a distraction."
"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 in a statement. "Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this probe, and I fully support this decision."
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, said Nunes's decision to step aside provided an opportunity for the panel to make a "fresh start."
The ethics committee made its decision to investigate Nunes after two watchdog groups -- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Democracy21 -- filed complaints against him, saying he had disclosed classified information in violation of House ethics rules after his White House meeting.
Nunes denounced the groups as "left-wing organizations" in a statement and rejected the allegations.
"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," Nunes wrote.
With reporting from AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP