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Devin Nunes, the Republican lawmaker leading a probe of Russian interference in the US election, is “temporarily” stepping down as head of the investigation, adding a new twist to Russia intrigue around the Trump administration.
Mr Nunes announced his decision on Thursday after having become engulfed in accusations that he improperly briefed President Donald Trump on information that the president or his associates had been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by US spy agencies.
The Republican lawmaker, who chairs the House of Representatives intelligence committee, attributed his decision to complaints against him filed by “leftwing activist groups” with Office of Congressional Ethics. He described the charges as “entirely false”.
The credibility of Mr Nunes’ probe had already been severely damaged by his decision to personally brief Mr Trump on material that the lawmaker had received from Trump administration officials on a late night visit to the White House grounds.
Democrats have demanded an independent inquiry to replace the House investigation, saying Mr Nunes used the information to back Mr Trump’s unsupported claim that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, issued a supportive statement on Mr Nunes on Thursday. “He continues to have [my] trust, and I know he is eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws,” Mr Ryan said.
“In the meantime, it is clear that this process would be a distraction for the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election.”
The House probe will continue in the hands of Mike Conaway, a senior member of the intelligence committee.