(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced on Thursday that he is temporarily stepping aside as head of Russia probe pending outcome of an ethics investigation.
Nunes said he will stay on as chairman of the intelligence committee, but anything to do with the Russia/Trump/leaks investigation will be handled by Rep. Mike Conaway (Texas), with assistance from Reps. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) and Tom Rooney (Fla.).
Nunes said his decision to remove himself as head of the Russia-Trump probe "is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress."
He explained his decision in the following statement:
Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. 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.
Despite the baselessness of the charges, 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.
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.
Democrats have been calling for Nunes to step aside ever since his trip to the White House several weeks ago, where Nunes said he viewed top secret documents showing that the U.S. intelligence community had "incidentally collected" information about people involved in President Donald Trump's transition team.
Nunes briefed President Trump on what he'd learned before he informed members of the committee he chairs. Outraged Democrats said he'd compromised the Russia probe, even though Nunes said the information he saw had nothing to do with Russia.
"I recently confirmed that, on numerous occasions, the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition," Nunes told a press conference at the Capitol on March 22.
"Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration -- details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value -- were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting," said Nunes. "I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked."
Liberal activist groups reportedly complained to the Ethics Committee that Nunes has released classified information.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) read a statement of his own at a Thursday morning news conference:
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. 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.
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. Chairman Mike Conaway, a senior member of the Committee, will now lead this investigation in the House. I am confident that he will oversee a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.
Ryan said he still has confidence in Nunes.
Ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters on Friday he wanted to express his appreciation for what Nunes has decided to do.
"I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for him. But as he mentioned, I think it is in the best interests of the investigation. It will, I think, allow us to have a fresh start moving forward. I look forward to working with Mr. Conaway," Schiff said.
"This investigation is of such critical importance, that we need to get fully back on track."
Schiff said he looks forward to working with Chairman Nunes on a "whole host of other issues."
He also said the classified materials viewed by Nunes at the White House -- and eventually by Schiff himself -- will now be shared with the full intelligence committee. He called it a "postive step."