Nunes Steps Aside. What Does That Mean For The Russia/Trump Probe?

The House Ethics Committee (yes, the one Republicans initially tried to shut down this session) has opened an investigation into the activities of Rep. Devin Nunes.

The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct.  The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.

Apparently Speaker Paul Ryan and Nunes met last night and today the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee stepped down from his role in leading the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Here is his statement:

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. 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. I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims.

We all know how fair and non-partisan Rep. Trey Benghazi! Gowdy can be (cough, cough), but you might not know much about Rep. Mike Conaway – who will be taking over for Nunes. Here is a taste:

A Texas lawmaker on the House intelligence committee says it wasn’t just the Russians who interfered in last year’s election.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, is comparing the use of Mexican entertainers to energize Democratic voters to the email hacking that officials say was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin’s government.

Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News this week. “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that.”

Ahhh…so Mexican soap opera stars and mariachis entertaining people in Las Vegas is exactly like Russia hacking/leaking emails. Got it.

During the first committee hearing with Comey and Rogers, Rep. Conaway was the one who couldn’t quite get the idea that trying to defeat Clinton indicated that Putin wanted Trump to win.

So it’s not likely that a move from Nunes to Conaway will mean any less partisanship or any great leaps of intellect.

The one person who might be cheering this move is Ezra Cohen-Watnick. When we left this story last time, we had just learned that Cohen-Watnick had been tasked (probably by Michael Flynn) with reviewing the “unmasking” of Trump officials whose communications with foreign targets had been collected incidentally. After taking his findings to the White House counsel’s office and being told to cease and desist because his activities could pose legal issues, he did an end-around and arranged for Rep. Nunes to view them at a clandestine meeting at the White House.

It was Nunes’ next move of announcing his impressions of these documents to the press that has him in trouble with the House Ethics Committee. But where is the ethics committee that will investigate Cohen-Watnick?

It could be that getting Nunes to step down was the best way to stop anyone from pursuing the role of Cohen-Watnick and the White House in this whole affair. Apparently that is Robby Mooks concern as well.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .