Watchdog groups that filed ethics complaints against House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) claimed credit as Nunes announced he was stepping down from the committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The nonprofits Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to launch a preliminary inquiry into whether Nunes violated House rules by disclosing classified information. The complaints followed a press conference in which Nunes claimed he had been told by sources he refused to identify that aides to President Donald Trump had been improperly monitored by intelligence agencies.
“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said in an April 6 statement. “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 added, however, that he would no longer head the Russia investigation while he is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. He said he had asked to “speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims.”
Soon after the Nunes statement, leaders of the House Ethics Committee said the panel is investigating public allegations that Nunes “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct.” The statement from Ethics Committee Chairwoman Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and ranking Democrat Ted Deutch (Fla.) said the panel would investigate and gather more information on the allegations against Nunes but gave no timeline for further action.
It was unclear whether the board of the OCE, which screens ethics complaints against House lawmakers and refers serious cases to the Ethics Committee, had voted to begin an inquiry following the complaint against Nunes filed by watchdog groups. House rules call for the ethics office to conduct an inquiry under a tight deadline of about three months and provide a report to the House Ethics Committee.
Under the rules that created the OCE, a report to the Ethics Committee, including findings about possible rules violations, may become public shortly after it is sent to the Ethics Committee. With the Ethics Committee taking over the Nunes investigation early on, however, it was not clear when or whether an announcement would be made about whether Nunes violated rules regarding handling of classified information.
CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz said in a statement it is “a good sign that the House Ethics Committee is being proactive in its investigation into Rep. Nunes and that Nunes is doing the proper thing and stepping down as chairman of the House intelligence committee.”
The request for an OCE investigation occurred because “the potential violation is so grave that it needs to be investigated right away,” Libowitz added. “We look forward to the House Ethics Committee’s investigation to quickly get to the bottom of this serious issue.”
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