House Intel Chair Devin Nunes Steps Aside From Russia Investigation
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And also in Washington, the head of the House Intelligence Committee said today he is stepping aside from the committee's investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election. California Republican Devin Nunes has been accused of ethics violations after he made a secret visit to the Trump White House and then revealed what might have been classified information. Nunes says he's done nothing wrong.
With us to talk about this is NPR national security editor Phil Ewing. Hi.
PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So for a long time now, Devin Nunes said he wouldn't step aside from this investigation. Why is he doing it now?
EWING: Well, he says he's been made the subject of a complaint in the House Ethics Committee, specifically that he may have released classified information as he was talking about this information he learned about from the Trump White House. Now, we've learned through subsequent reports that the information he got which he said involved the U.S. sweeping up Trump administration or then Trump transition aides and potentially Trump himself in surveillance of foreign persons overseas might have included some of the names of the people involved with that. And in doing so, according to this complaint, he might have revealed classified information.
Nunes says he didn't do anything wrong. He called the charges 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 abuse of power. That's from his statement today. So he's going to step aside temporarily but remain as the chairman of the full committee going forward.
MCEVERS: So what happens to the investigation now?
EWING: Well, other Republicans on the committee, Mike Conaway of Texas and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, are going to take over the Russia probe. They say they want to take the baton from Nunes on a temporary basis, as I mentioned, and make this about the unmasking of these names and the surveillance they say might have been done by the former national security adviser, Susan Rice, under President Obama. And Trey Gowdy is a name that a lot of people may recognize. He ran the investigation the House did...
EWING: ...Into the Benghazi attack in Libya. And our colleague Mary Louise Kelly interviewed the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Mark Warner, and he said he's seen no evidence for these charges that Nunes has made. And so that's kind of where the matter stands here in Washington.
MCEVERS: Senate Intelligence Committee's doing an investigation. House Intelligence Committee's doing an investigation. The FBI's doing an investigation. Of course the House one has been the one that has been in the most trouble. Is there a sense that this move will get the House investigation back on track?
EWING: They certainly say they want to. Mike Conaway, that Republican I mentioned who's taking over, said that, quote, "my profession as a CPA and auditor taught me to be objective and methodical" in his statement today. So he's pulling on his experience as an accountant to convince people that he can run this investigation in a bipartisan and fair way.
But right now there's no process scheduled. There's no open hearings. This has been stalled since that Nunes visit to the White House and his description about what he said he learned from these officials with the Trump administration. So everyone is kind of watching the soap opera to see what the next turn that it take might be.
MCEVERS: NPR national security editor Phil Ewing, thank you very much.
EWING: Thank you.
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