House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced Thursday that he is temporarily stepping aside from his committee’s investigation into potential Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
While Nunes maintains he has done nothing wrong, he said it is in the “best interests” of the committee, Congress, and the investigation for him to temporarily recuse himself, allowing Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to take the lead with assistance from Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Pa.).
“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.”
Nunes has been facing increasing scrutiny ever since it was revealed last month that he paid a visit to the White House one day before he revealed that President Donald Trump and his associates may have been picked up in incidental surveillance collection during the 2016 election.
The chairman also created controversy when he decided to bypass his fellow committee members and brief Trump on the information related to surveillance.
Democrats have been calling on Nunes to step aside for weeks and, according to an AOL News poll conducted this week, 61 percent of respondents said Nunes should recuse himself.
Nunes said he will “continue to fulfill all my responsibilities as committee chairman” and is requesting a meeting with the House Ethics Committee, which is conducting an investigation into the lawmaker following charges of misconduct from the Office of Congressional Ethics.
“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.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement of his own 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, while adding that Nunes staying on with looming questions would be a “distraction” from the committee’s work.
The speaker went on to say he is “confident” Conaway will supervise a “professional investigation” in the House.
In a media briefing shortly after Nunes made the surprise announcement, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) expressed his “appreciation” for the chairman’s decision.