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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes steps down from Russian Federation probe

15 April 2017

Devin Nunes (R-CA) leaves the House floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 29, 2017.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes stepped aside from leading the House investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election Thursday, capping a chaotic ride that began with a secret trip to the White House grounds that would eventually form the core of President Donald Trump's counter-offensive.

In a short statement, Mr. Nunes blasted against unspecified "leftwing activist groups" who filed unspecified accusations which, although unspecified, were also "false".

Nunes, R-Calif., said he was stepping down temporarily as head of the House probe into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian Federation during last year's election.

The leaders of the House Ethics Committee said it is investigating whether Nunes improperly disclosed classified information, apparently when he held a press conference last month to claim that Trump associates' names had been revealed in intelligence reports.

"I will continue to fulfil all my other responsibilities as committee chairman", Mr Nunes said. While he was a strong Trump supporter past year, the seven-term congressman was not a member of Trump's transition team, unlike Nunes. That was partly why he had to recuse himself.

The Ethics Committee "is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations", they said.

The timeline of Nunes' fall starts the day after the stunning public hearing Nunes led where FBI Director James Comey announced that federal investigators have been examining ties between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russian operatives since last July.

Lawmakers said Nunes' decision was welcome.

"I am hopeful that under the leadership of Mike Conaway we can move forward in a bipartisan way that gets to the truth of Russia's interference in our election and whether any Americans were involved", Castro said.

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The investigation is examining whether Russian Federation tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in Mr Trump's favour, including through hacking Democratic operatives' emails and releasing embarrassing information.

Trump praised Nunes as "honourable", calling both him and Conaway "high-quality" people in comments to reporters travelling to Florida on Air Force One.

Sewell said Thursday the attention on Nunes has shifted focus away from the important House investigation into whether Russian Federation tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. "Most people recognise that the House as an institution needs to do serious oversight here and that the House is on trial", she said.

Speaker Paul Ryan also appeared to support Nunes' decision to step aside. "He's fully cooperating, and I believe he will be cleared", representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who leads the House Republican Conference, told reporters.

Trump sparked a controversy in early March when he tweeted, without giving evidence, that Obama had wiretapped him while the NY businessman competed with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Nunes suggested that those reports identified President Trump and members of his transition team, whose names may have been mentioned by individuals under surveillance - or whose conversations with those individuals may have been incidentally picked up.

The House Ethics Committee will make the final call on whether Mr. Nunes inappropriately discussed classified information.

Nunes said that Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, with assistance from Reps.

That allegation, in turn, has kicked off an evolving, unsubstantiated controversy about whether the Obama White House tried to spy on the incoming Trump administration.

USA foreign intelligence activities are classified, but the president can authorise the release of information about them. It is not clear whether Trump authorized Nunes to discuss the foreign surveillance.