A new Republican congressman will take charge of the embattled House investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. election as Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is temporarily stepping aside.
Nunes, R-Calif., said in a statement Thursday that he believes it's in the best interests of the committee and Congress for him to do so. The move comes weeks after he generated accusations that the investigation was biased when he took information — later revealed to be acquired on White House grounds — directly to President Donald Trump without sharing it with colleagues on the committee.
Nunes called charges filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics "false and politically motivated." The office confirmed Thursday that it is aware of accusations "Rep. Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information."
"Despite the baselessness of the charges, I believe it is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and Congress for me to have Representative Mike Conaway ... temporarily take charge of the Committee's Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee looks into this matter," he said in the statement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he supports the decision and that Nunes, who served on Trump's presidential transition team, continues to have his trust.
"I know he is eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws. 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," Ryan said.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called Nunes' sharing of information with the White House "gravely concerning." He argued that Nunes' actions show the need for an independent investigation into the alleged meddling, which is also the subject of a Senate investigation and an FBI counterintelligence investigation.
"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," Schiff said Thursday in a statement.
Nunes steps down with most Democrats and Republicans focused on different facets of the investigation.
Schiff has said he's seen "more than circumstantial evidence of collusion" that associates of Donald Trump colluded with Russia during the election. He has not named individuals who may have colluded with Russians, but some members of the Trump campaign who have been implicated in news reports have denied the allegation.
Trump has claimed, without evidence, that he believes Trump Tower was placed under surveillance by the Obama administration, and Nunes has said that while there is no evidence of an order to collect surveillance, communications with the Trump team were caught "incidentally." Trump's supporters have argued that the identities of Trump associates were improperly "unmasked" by members of the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, Trump claimed, again without evidence, that Obama aide Susan Rice illegally ordered the names unmasked.
Rice, who had the power as national security adviser to request that names be unmasked for national security purposes, has denied that she or other Obama officials spied on Trump associates for political purposes.
"I'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment," Rice's spokeswoman said of Trump's latest accusation.
The president spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to his Florida resort on Thursday afternoon. Trump said he only recently heard that Nunes stepped aside from the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Nunes is a "good person" and "a very honorable guy," Trump said.
Nunes remains the chairman of the intelligence committee after stepping down from the Russia investigation, which Republican congressman Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney will help Conaway lead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.