House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes will temporarily step away from Russia probe

House Intel chairman Devin Nunes to step away from Russia probe

Embattled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes will temporarily step down from the panel's Russia investigation.

In a statement Thursday, the California Republican said Rep. Mike Conaway will take control of the probe, with "assistance" from fellow Republicans Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney.

Also Thursday, the House Ethics Committee confirmed it is looking into allegations that Nunes "may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information."

Nunes, a supporter of President Donald Trump, said he will still serve as the committee's chairman and carry out his other responsibilities in the position.

Last week, watchdog groups asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Nunes broke House ethics rules and revealed classified information related to the probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Nunes said he will temporarily step back from the investigation until the allegations are resolved.

"Several left wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics," Nunes said. "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 has faced criticism from Democrats for his handling of the investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and Trump's claims that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

Nunes has focused largely on looking into whether Trump transition members caught up in surveillance of other targets were "unmasked," or had their identities revealed. Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted this week that she had requested to unmask American citizens during her tenure, but did not directly say if any of them were Trump associates. She said suggestions that the Obama administration used intelligence for "political purposes" were "absolutely false."

In an interview Wednesday with The New York Times, Trump alleged that Rice may have committed a crime with her actions related to Trump associates. A spokesperson for Rice called the claim "ludicrous."

Nunes faced backlash — and some critics questioned his independence from Trump — after he admitted that he went to the White House a day before he announced that Trump associates may have had their communications "incidentally" swept up in routine foreign surveillance. Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel's top Democrat, said Nunes did not share the intelligence with him before he made the statement.

Schiff has since said he saw "precisely the same" materials during a visit to the White House. He argued that those materials should have been shared with the whole committee, not just Nunes.

On Thursday, Schiff said Nunes' move was in the "best interest" of the investigation, adding that he looked forward to a "fresh start" and working with Conaway.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Nunes "continues to have" his trust. He added that the intelligence panel's chairman "is eager to demonstrate" that he followed "all proper guidelines and laws."

Some Democrats have accused Nunes of using his position to try to provide a form of vindication for Trump after the president's unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him. Nunes himself has repeatedly said Trump was never wiretapped.