(ABC NEWS) -- After a number of ethics complaints, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., announced today that he will step aside from leading the House Intelligence Committee's probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Several left-wing 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," Nunes said in a statement released this morning.
But the committee chairman said today that Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, with assistance from GOP Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Tom Rooney of Florida, will “temporarily” lead the committee’s Russia probe while the House Ethics Committee looks into the 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,” the statement concluded.
The House Ethics Committee announced today that it is investigating Nunes' actions after "allegations of unauthorized disclosures of classified information," noting that the investigation "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred."
Nunes was on White House grounds March 21 reviewing information pertaining to what he said was the legal, “incidental” collection of surveillance on President Donald Trump’s associates, and possibly Trump himself, one day before he held an impromptu news conference announcing his findings and then briefed the president.
The White House declined to comment on Nunes’ decision to step aside. "I'm not going to comment on decisions that the House makes on its committee chairman or their activities that's up to them," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC News today.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who previously said March 28 that he did not think Nunes should step down, defended Nunes' integrity but said he supports the decision.
"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 in a statement. "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," he said.
When asked at his weekly press briefing this morning whether he thinks Nunes mishandled classified information, Ryan said, “I don't believe so.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he is looking forward to working with Nunes on other issues but said he agrees with the decision to remove himself.
"I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for him but, as he mentioned, I do think it’s in the best interest of the investigation," the California Democrat said today of Nunes.
"This investigation is of such importance that we have to get fully back on track.”
Nunes joined the House Intelligence Committee in 2011 and was appointed chairman by then-House Speaker John Boehner in 2015.
After Trump clinched the GOP nomination, Nunes came out in support of Trump and organized a fundraiser for the Republican nominee in August 2016.
Nunes was named to the executive committee of Trump’s transition team on Nov. 11, 2016. During the transition phase, he advised Trump on his Cabinet nominees and other top positions within the incoming administration.
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