House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, R-CA, this morning surrendered leadership of the committee’s investigation of Russia’s involvement in last year’s election.
But Nunes’ surprising move – he had repeatedly brushed off calls for him to recuse himself or give up the chairmanship altogether – is hardly reassuring. As long as the investigation remains under congressional control, with Republicans and Democrats bitterly divided over its direction and scope, and over Nunes’ leadership, its eventual findings are destined to be tainted.
"Rep. Nunes should step down not just temporarily from the Russian investigation, he should step down from the committee permanently," said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. "His actions have revealed him incapable of conducting nonpartisan investigations." She urged Congress to create an independent commission "to investigate the massive effort by the Russian government to influence the outcomes of our elections."
Nunes made his announcement after stepping out of a committee meeting in which he had given no hint of his plans. He said leadership of the Russia investigation will shift to Rep. Mike Conaway, R- TX, with assistance from Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-SC, and Tom Rooney, R-FL.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is in the midst of its own investigation.
Gowdy headed the controversial House select committee that spent two years on a politically-charged investigation of the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies already have concluded that Russian operatives hacked into U.S. political party computer systems and voter registration records maintained by several state governments. To date, the agencies have found no evidence that the Russian hacking resulted in altered vote tallies. Serious questions remain however, about possible collusion between the Trump for President campaign and Russian operatives.
Nunes’ statement today attributed his move to what he insisted are “entirely false and baseless” charges filed against him in the House Ethics Committee. He has been under fire for making a clandestine trip to the White House grounds last month to view and later brief President Trump on documents apparently related to U.S. electronic surveillance of Russian operatives and their contacts with representatives of the Trump campaign.
It is unclear this morning whether Nunes acted on his own or was pushed aside by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The speaker issued a statement reaffirming his confidence in Nunes but suggesting that the Ethics Committee inquiry “would be a distraction.” At the Capitol shortly after releasing the statement, Ryan ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether he had asked Nunes to withdraw.
Office: Common Cause National