Michael Conaway, Texas Republican, to take over House Russia probe

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WASHINGTON – Texas U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway was tapped Thursday to lead the House Intelligence Committee probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which has been hampered by weeks of partisan discord over its chairman, Devin Nunes, who agreed to step aside.

For Conaway, a Republican from Midland and a senior member of the intelligence panel, the assignment represents a sudden leap into the center of a gripping national drama over the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic apparatus, Russian agents, and leading figures in both the Trump and Obama administrations.

“I have been a member of the House Intelligence Committee for over eight years now, and it is a responsibility I take with the utmost seriousness,” Conaway said. “My profession as a CPA and auditor has taught me to be objective and methodical, and that is how I intend to help lead this investigation.

Conaway’s new role was announced by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who acceded to Democratic calls for Nunes, who worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign, to step aside in the face of fresh ethics complaints over his role in helping the White House parry criticism of the president’s unsubstantiated claim that he was wiretapped by former President Barack Obama.

While saying that Nunes, a California Republican, continues to have his trust, Ryan said the new ethics probe would be a “distraction,” and called on Conaway to take the lead on the Russia investigation. “I am confident that he will oversee a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead,” Ryan said in a statement.

Conaway also said Nunes continues to have his full support, and emphasized that his new leadership role in the Russia probe is temporary.

Conaway has handled sensitive assignments before as a former chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing against members of Congress, generally considered one of the most thankless jobs in Washington.

A certified public accountant by training, he also once led an audit committee that uncovered fraud in hundreds of thousands of dollars of missing funds in National Republican Congressional Committee bank accounts.

The 68-year-old lifelong Texan has deep ties to the Bush family, including doing CPA work for an oil and gas company run by former President George W. Bush.

But as the current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Conaway generally maintains a low profile overseeing commodity and nutrition programs that keep him far away from the national spotlight.

That is about to change, with Democrats and allied groups alleging that the House Republicans are seeking to stifle the progress of an investigation centered on potential cooperation between Trump campaign aides and Russian government and industry officials.

Conaway, who has represented Texas’ 1th congressional district since 2005, will take temporary control of the controversial Russia investigation with fellow Republicans Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and Tom Rooney of Florida.

Nunes, meanwhile, will retain his position as chairman of the intelligence committee. 

“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 said. “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.”

Nunes has been under fire for his handling of information that Trump officials may have been swept up in surveillance of foreign agents. He said he briefed Trump on the information before telling other members of the committee.

The New York Times subsequently reported that White House officials were Nunes’ sources on the information.

The committee’s top Democrats, Adam Schiff of California, said he respected Nunes’ decision to step aside.

Said Conaway: “I am confident that Ranking Member Schiff and I will be able to work together to conduct an effective, bipartisan investigation.”

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