WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway will lead the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 elections, the committee chairman announced Thursday morning.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, said he is turning over his role as leader of the investigation to Conaway. Conaway is the second-ranking member of the full intelligence committee.
"Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. 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 said in a statement.
"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' tenure during the investigation was deeply troubled. Most committee Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, called on him to step down from that role after a series of unorthodox meetings and communications with White House officials.
After FBI Director James Comey publicly revealed his bureau was investigating members of President Donald's Trump political world for colluding with Russian intelligence, Nunes twice went to the White House grounds. Once, for an intelligence briefing, and a day later to brief the president on his findings.
Democrats, including Castro, charged that the chairman was as a result compromised on an investigation that could take the committee to the White House. Nunes' announcement came on the same morning the U.S. House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Nunes over the matter.
Chief among Conaway's tasks in this sensitive assignment is to rebuild trust and credibility with a committee that is, essentially, in shambles.
Conaway is a seven-term term member who represents the sprawling 11th district in West Texas. On two previous occasions, he made light of the investigations by comparing the Russian cyber attacks on Democratic officials to Mexican entertainers campaigning for Hillary Clinton and then comparing Russian alliances to Big 12 football loyalties.
That said, his GOP colleagues hold him in high regard on investigatory matters. As a relatively junior congressman and accountant a decade ago, Conaway uncovered a financial scandal at the House GOP's campaign arm.
This new task will add to the congressman's portfolio; he is also chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Speaker Paul Ryan expressed confidence in Conaway in a statement, as Democrats expressed an interest in a fresh start.
The committee's top Democrat, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, issued a statement on Conaway.
"With respect to Representative Conaway, I look forward to joining with him and putting our investigation fully back on track," he wrote. "The important work of investigating the Russian involvement in our election never subsided, but we have a fresh opportunity to move forward in the unified and nonpartisan way that an investigation of this seriousness demands.”
The lone Texas Democrat serving on an intelligence committee concurred.
"I am hopeful that under the leadership of Mike Conaway we can move forward in a bipartisan way that gets to the truth of Russia’s interference in our election and whether any Americans were involved," Castro said.