Commentary — Nunes has been forced to recuse himself for the time being. Let’s hope that enough Republicans on the Intelligence Committee are partisan enough, if nothing else, to keep Jewish supremacist Adam Schiff from running ram-shod over the committee.
Devin Nunes, Donald Trump’s chief ally on the congressional committees investigating the president’s connections to Russia, has stepped aside from the inquiry, the congressman announced on Thursday.
Less than two weeks after the Democrats on the House intelligence committee called for Nunes to recuse himself, the committee chairman said he would “temporarily” leave the inquiry in the hands of other right-wing Republicans, leaving it unclear how much Nunes’ absence would transform an investigation stalled by deep partisan infighting.
Nunes, a member of Trump’s national security transition team and the head of the House intelligence committee, said that “leftwing activists” had filed ethics complaints against him, prompting his absence while he contests them.
“Despite the baselessness of the charges, I believe it is in the best interests of the House intelligence committee and the Congress for me to have Representative Mike Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, temporarily take charge of the committee’s Russia investigation while the House ethics committee looks into this matter,” Nunes said in a statement.
Nunes had faced deep criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans for diverting the focus of an inquiry deeply damaging to Trump over to murky and morphing allegations that Trump was the subject of improper leaks. He had initially and untruthfully denied that the Trump White House had aided him in supplying the material for those allegations, which Democrats described as a cover-up.
Yet Nunes had last week rejected all calls for recusal, even as he cancelled scheduled public hearings into the Trump-Russia allegations and the committee’s work ground to a halt.
Adam Schiff, Nunes’ Democratic counterpart on the committee who had called on Nunes to step away from the inquiry, sounded a conciliatory note, saying it was “not an easy decision for the chairman” and pledging to work with Conaway to put the inquiry “back on track”.
Schiff said the panel now had “a fresh opportunity to move forward in the unified and nonpartisan way that an investigation of this seriousness demands”.
Paul Ryan, the House speaker who had expressed full confidence in Nunes even as the criticism of his collusion with the White House mounted, reiterated support for Nunes’ indefinite recusal.
“It is clear that this process would be a distraction for the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election. Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this probe, and I fully support this decision,” said Ryan, who has stuck by Nunes against broader calls for an independent commission investigating Trump associates’ ties to Russia.
While Nunes had intimated – like Trump – that Barack Obama aides and US intelligence officials had improperly, if legally, revealed and leaked classified accounts of surveillance on foreign officials that mentioned Trump aides, leftwing activist groups made a countercharge with the House ethics panel that Nunes himself had confirmed the existence of classified information.
“The existence of an application for foreign intelligence surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 USC 1801 et seq – what Nunes referred to as ‘warrants’ – is, of course classified, and disclosure of the information itself can be made only in court proceedings,” MoveOn.org filed with the House ethics committee on 28 March.