First on CNN: Devin Nunes continues reviewing Russia intelligence, despite recusal

 cnn.com  5/19/2017 1:57:15 AM   Tom LoBianco, CNN
House Intel chair steps aside in Russia probe
  • Rep. Devin Nunes step aside from leading the House intelligence investigation last month
  • "I don't talk about intelligence," the California Republican said Thursday

(CNN)The former head of the House Russia investigation, Rep. Devin Nunes, is continuing to review intelligence relating to Russia, a move that has Democrats grumbling that he has violated the spirit of his recusal.

Nunes, a California Republican, took a trip to the CIA this week to review Russia intelligence, according to House intelligence committee sources. As word of Nunes trip trickled out among lawmakers this week, it angered Democrats who thought that they had moved past the chaos spurred by Nunes' coordination with the White House.

Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, shrugged when asked if he was concerned that Nunes had not completely removed himself from the House Russia investigation.

"He recused himself, so he can set those limits," Quigley said.

Nunes' clandestine trip two months ago to the White House to review intelligence obtained by White House staff started a three-week stretch of chaos inside the House that almost derailed its Russia investigation.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the investigation, both called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation, accusing him of coordinating with President Donald Trump to sabotage the House inquiry.

At the end of three weeks, Nunes announced he would step aside from the House Russia investigation, as he became the subject of a House Ethics probe into whether he revealed classified intelligence.

"I don't talk about intelligence," Nunes said Thursday, when asked why he was still reviewing Russian intelligence.

When Nunes stepped aside from the House Russia probe, he noted that a trio of Republican representatives would be taking his place -- but he never said he would withdraw from the Russia investigation completely.

"I believe it is in the best interests of the House Intelligence Committee and the Congress for me to have Rep. Mike Conaway, with assistance from Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, temporarily take charge of the committee's Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee looks into this matter. I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as committee chairman," Nunes said in a statement on April 6.

Since then, Nunes has attended briefings and has retained his spot on the "Gang of Eight" -- a select group including the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate and on the intelligence committees. Nunes' perch on the "Gang of Eight" has given him greater access to intelligence than every other House Russia investigator except Schiff, who is also on the "Gang of Eight."

Schiff declined comment for this article.

A senior House Republican aide noted that Nunes is still the chairman of the House intelligence committee and has duties, which still require him to review classified intelligence. The aide added that House Speaker Paul Ryan is not setting the terms of Nunes' recusal from the leadership of the investigation.

The senior Republican aide later said that Nunes never technically recused himself, because he only said he would ask the other Republicans to "temporarily take charge" of the House Russia investigation.

Since Nunes' limited recusal, investigators have worked hard to reset the House investigation -- with Schiff and Conaway agreeing on a pair of hearings and Democrats curtailing some of their public criticism of the House probe.

A spokeswoman for Conaway did not immediately return a request for comment for this article.

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