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Nunes steps aside from Russian meddling probe amid controversy

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. is pursued by reporters as he leaves Capitol Hill in Washington on April 6, 2017, after a meeting with House Majority leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Calif. Photo Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON — The embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday he will step aside temporarily from probes into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said it is in the “best interests” of the committee to leave Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to oversee the investigations.

He recused himself as the House Ethics Committee announced it is reviewing allegations that Nunes “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

The congressman, who will stay on as chairman, noted the complaints in his statement, saying the charges by “left-wing activist groups” are “entirely false and politically motivated.”

Nunes caught fire beginning March 22 when he briefed the news media and then President Donald Trump on intelligence he said revealed the incidental collection of Trump transition communications in routine monitoring of foreign officials.

The chairman viewed the information a day earlier on White House grounds.

Nunes has not shared the intercepts with his fellow committee members. He has not disclosed his source, although the New York Times reported that two White House officials helped provide the information.

Democrats have said Nunes, a former transition team member, cannot lead an impartial investigation into Russia or other matters that may involve the president.

His revelation of Trump team intercepts came after the president made unproven accusations of wiretapping of Trump Tower by former President Barack Obama. The White House later said the president had meant surveillance in general.

In his statement, Nunes indicated that he believes the ethics complaints against him seek to distract Americans from “the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power.”

The intelligence committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, told reporters at the Capitol that the step will “allow us to have a fresh start moving forward.”

Trump told reporters en route to Florida that he believes Nunes is a “very honorable guy” and “high-quality person.”

Asked whether he had seen Nunes’ classified information, the president said, “Nobody shared it with me.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he continues to support and trust Nunes and the ethics committee’s process “would be a distraction for the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “The White House made a fool of Chairman Nunes.”

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