House intel chairman stepping aside from House Russia investigation

WASHINGTON-  House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes announced Thursday he was temporarily stepping aside from leading the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections.

Nunes cited a series of ethics complaints filed against him alleging that he violated terms of discussing classified material following his clandestine meeting at the White House just over two weeks ago.

“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, a California Republican, said in a statement.

He added, “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.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that he trusts Nunes, but also supports his decision to step aside.

“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,” Ryan said.

The Wisconsin Republican said he’s confident that Nunes’ replacements on the investigation will conduct “a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”

The House intelligence committee met earlier Thursday, but Nunes did not tell members during that meeting of his decision, a source said.

Conaway, a Texas Republican, who will now lead the Russia investigation, said he hopes to work with the committee’s Democrats to get the Russia investigation back on track, but said he’ll need their cooperation.

“We’re going to pursue the investigation, follow every lead to its logical conclusion,” Conaway said. “We’re going to conduct the investigation and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue every lead.”

“I’ll need cooperation from both sides to make that happen,” he added.

The House investigation has been rocked by turmoil since FBI Director James Comey announced in late March that the FBI has been investigating possible collusion between top aides of President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials who sought to sway the US election.

One day after that stunning revelation, Nunes secretly visited the White House to review evidence that is now at the center of Trump’s counter-offensive. The ensuing chaos rocked the House investigation and led some lawmakers to declare it dead, but Republicans and Democrats have slowly been setting it back on course.

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