The House Ethics Committee has cleared Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes in its investigation into whether he disclosed classified information to the Trump White House, which could create an avenue for Nunes to return to the helm of the panel’s Russia investigation.
Nunes’s return could further inflame the partisan fervor surrounding the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
The California Republican has already launched a joint investigation with the House Oversight Committee into the Uranium One deal that was agreed to in 2010 under the Obama administration, which Republicans claim involved illicit donations to the Clinton Foundation.
He has also hammered the FBI and Justice Department for not turning over documents or making witnesses available in response to subpoenas related to the FBI’s connection to the Fusion GPS opposition research dossier on President Donald Trump and Russia compiled by former British agent Christopher Steele.
The Ethics Committee announced Thursday that it was closing its investigation into Nunes after determining the information that he had disclosed was not classified.
“In the course of this investigation, the Committee sought the analysis of Representative Nunes’s statements by classification experts in the intelligence community,” the Ethics Committee said in a statement. “Based solely on the conclusion of these classification experts that the information that Representative Nunes disclosed was not classified, the Committee will take no further action and considers this matter closed.”
In April, Nunes temporarily stepped aside from his role as the head of the committee’s probe into Russian election meddling amid questions about his decision to provide information to the White House about the “unmasking” of Trump officials at the tail end of the Obama administration.
Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, took the lead on the Russia investigation alongside the committee’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff of California.
But Nunes has kept a hand in the investigation, as he’s continued to sign the committee’s subpoenas as chairman, with Conaway’s blessing. Nunes has said for months that he did not recuse himself from the investigation, but only temporarily stepped aside while the ethics panel’s investigation was ongoing.
“I’m in charge. I was always in charge,” Nunes told Fox News on Thursday after he was cleared by the committee.
Focus on Clintons, Obama administration
Nunes’ role has been a sore spot for Democrats on the committee, and the investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign has frequently been roiled by partisan tensions.
Earlier this week, Nunes told CNN he was still planning to move forward on holding FBI Director Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in contempt of Congress for not complying with the committee’s subpoenas.
In a statement, Nunes accused the Ethics Committee’s Democrats of making statements that appeared to prejudge him, and he called on the panel “to publicly release all its transcripts related to my case.”
“While I appreciate the Ethics Committee’s work, I need to reiterate that the allegations against me were obviously frivolous and were rooted in politically motivated complaints filed against me by left-wing activist groups,” Nunes said. “I respect the ethics process, but I remain dismayed that it took an unbelievable eight months for the Committee to dismiss this matter.”
The ethics investigation was launched over allegations that he had discussed classified material following his clandestine meeting at the White House in March about the unmasking of Trump officials.
Nunes has accused Obama administration officials of politically motivated “unmasking,” or the identifying of US officials in documents collected through foreign surveillance. The Obama administration officials have argued they had legitimate reasons for the unmasking requests they made.
It could be complicated politically and logistically for Nunes to fully retake control of the investigation.
The committee has spoken to dozens of witnesses since Nunes stepped aside in April, while Reps. Conaway, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Tom Rooney of Florida have taken the lead in interviewing witnesses on the Republican side.
Conaway is already discussing the end game for the committee’s investigation, with a report he hopes to write when the committee finishes interviewing witnesses. Conaway has said he wants to wrap up the probe as soon as possible.
Spokespeople for Schiff and Conaway did not immediately respond to a request for comment.