The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes says he is temporarily stepping down from the panel’s investigation into alleged Russian hacking during the 2016 election campaign, after ethical complaints were lodged against him.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating whether Nunes may have made an unauthorized disclosure of classified information last month during a hastily arranged news conference.
Nunes said he had come into the possession of classified material that indicated members of Trump’s campaign had conversations “incidentally collected” by U.S. intelligence agencies while surveilling foreign targets.
Nunes said “several leftwing activist groups” filed accusations of impropriety against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics, and he would temporarily step back from the investigation until the charges are cleared up.
Two government watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed the complaint, which alleges Nunes’s characterization of what was in the classified documents violated House ethics rules, even though he didn’t disclose the specific information found in the documents.
Nunes called the accusations “baseless” and politically motivated, though he said he would step down from the investigation of the charges because it is “in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress.”
He said he would continue to fulfill his other duties as committee chairman, but said Representative Mike Conaway will take charge of the investigation, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney.
The House Ethics Committee released a statement acknowledging the investigation, though it cautioned it “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
Anyone can file a complaint with the OCE. It is up to the office to determine the validity of the complaint and forward it to House Ethics Committee when appropriate.
Nunes did not brief the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, on the documents before sharing them with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a move that led Schiff and other Democrats to question Nunes’s ability to run an independent investigation.
Schiff said Thursday he was appreciative of Nunes’s decision to step down and said it would give the investigation “a fresh start moving forward.”
WATCH: Rep. Adam Schiff’s reaction
“As I understand it now, the materials that the chairman viewed at the White House, and that I subsequently viewed, are now being made available to the full committee. I think that’s a very positive step, as well,” he said.
Ryan also applauded Nunes’s decision to step down, saying it would be a distraction if stayed on the investigation while dealing with the ethics complaint.
“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,” Ryan said.