Panel chief to step aside from Russia probe

WASHINGTON • Mr Devin Nunes, the embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has announced he will step aside from leading his committee's investigation into Russia's efforts to disrupt last year's United States presidential election.

The congressman has been under growing criticism for his handling of the Russian inquiry.

Many on Capitol Hill have said he is too eager to do the White House's bidding and cannot be an impartial investigator into questions about any role President Donald Trump's associates may have had in last year's Russian campaign to disrupt the election.

"Several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics," Mr Nunes said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

He called the charges "entirely false and politically motivated", but said it was in the committee's best interests for him to temporarily step aside from the investigation.

The California Republican said he would continue to serve as the panel's chairman, while Republican Representative Mike Conaway of Texas will replace him in overseeing the Russia inquiry.

Mr Nunes came under fire last month after he announced that he believed Mr Trump or members of his transition team may have been "incidentally" caught up in foreign surveillance by US spy agencies.

He cited "dozens" of intelligence reports he described as classified, which was later revealed to have been provided to him by White House officials.

Last week, watchdog groups asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Mr Nunes potentially broke House ethics rules and revealed classified information related to the probe, the CNBC reported.

As multiple investigations into Russia's meddling have gained steam, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have accused Former president Barack Obama's administration of seeking names of US citizens caught up in surveillance of foreign nationals for political purposes.

Mr Obama and his aides have flatly denied doing so.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Nunes has "followed all proper guidelines and laws" and "continues" to have his trust.

But, he added, "it is clear that this process would be a distraction for the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in our election".

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Panel chief to step aside from Russia probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe