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 of California 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.
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 West Texas 11th district. 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 with 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, he 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.
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.”
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