Devin Nunes temporarily steps down from US House investigation on Russia: statement

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - The chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee said on Thursday he was temporarily stepping down from the panel's probe into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election while he answers ethics complaints filed against him.

Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that "entirely false and politically motivated" charges that he made unauthorized disclosures of classified information had been lodged against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes

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U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) walks out to brief reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speak with the media about the ongoing Russia investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) questions FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers during a hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
US Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) (R),Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (2nd R) and Hubbard family members look on as US President George W. Bush (3rd R) signs the Hubbard Act in the Oval Office in the White House in Washington, August 29, 2008. The Hubbard Act protects the benefits of soldiers who leave the armed forces because they are the sole survivors in a family where other members have been killed in duty, and is named after the Hubbard family who lost two of their three sons in the war in Iraq. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)
Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, walks through Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 24, 2017. Paul Manafort, former chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, is willing to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in last years U.S. election, Nunes said today. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes speaks to journalists about upcoming investigation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Friday March 24, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Nunes, who was on Donald Trump's presidential transition team following the 2016 election, has been sharply criticized by Democrats for his handling of the Russia probe after he received information at the White House, held a news conference about it and then went back to the White House to brief Trump, all before sharing it with other members of his committee.

The Russia probe is investigating whether Moscow hacked emails of senior Democrats during the election campaign and released embarrassing information to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and benefit Trump. Russia denies the allegations.

Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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The House Ethics Committee said in a statement it had decided to investigate allegations thatNunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information in violation of House rules, the law and other standards of conduct.

Nunes said he had decided to step aside from the Russia investigation in order to fight the allegations and wanted to speak with the ethics office as soon as possible "to expedite the dismissal of these false claims."

The top Democrat on the committee, Representative Adam Schiff, said Nunes' decision to step aside from the investigation was made in "the best interests of the committee and I respect that decision." (Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Alexander; Editing by W Simon and Alistair Bell)

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