WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee authorized the chairman of the House's intelligence committee on Thursday in a complaint that it may have leaked classified information, paving the Way for Representative Devin Nunes to again conduct his panel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The Ethics Committee said in a brief statement that it determined that Nunes, a Republican from California, did not deliver material classified while talking about information he had received on a clandestine trip to the White House in April. Nunes had turned away from Russian research pending ethical investigation and amid criticism that he was too close to the White House.
If Nunes returned to the investigation, he would put a close ally of President Donald Trump at the head of one of the Congressional investigations into whether Russia coordinated its campaign. Nunes was part of Trump's transition team after the election and questioned suggestions of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway has conducted the investigation in the absence of Nunes.
Citing intelligence experts, the Ethics Committee said that Nunes did not publicly disclose classified information when he discussed secret documents he reviewed on White House grounds earlier this year. . When the committee opened its Nunes investigation in April, Nunes said it would step aside temporarily, pending ethical review. However, he has remained close to the investigation, retaining access to the documents and the power of appointment as president of the intelligence panel.
Nunes said in a statement late on Thursday that he was angry that the review left him out of control for eight months and said he had been asked for partisan criticism. He also said that he wanted the panel to publish his transcripts of his interviews with him.
Two watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, requested the investigation to determine whether Nunes divulged classified information that he learned from the intelligence reports. . At a press conference in March after the trip to the White House, Nunes had said that communications involving Trump's partners had been swept up by US spy agencies and, he suggested, mismanaged by the Obama administration.
He said then that he had met with a secret source in the White House to review the material and then informed the president. The surveillance groups said that Nunes apparently violated the House rules by publicly revealing the existence of a foreign surveillance order.
Nunes did not say in Thursday's statement whether he would regain control of the Russia House investigation. A spokesperson for Nunes did not immediately return a request for comments that Thursday night.
The announcement comes when the House panel has intensified its pace of investigative interviews, meeting with dozens of important witnesses about to conclude next year.
On Wednesday, the committee interviewed Donald Trump Jr., Trump's eldest son, about a 2016 meeting he and other campaign officials held with the Russians, among other issues. On Thursday, a person familiar with the investigation said that House investigators asked Trump Jr. about a series of emails among some participants in the meeting after it happened. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
CNN reported that Rob Goldstone, a publicist representing a Moscow-based family that had partnered with the Trump Organization at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia, wrote a follow-up e-mail to the director of social media for Trump and to confidante Dan Scavino after the June 2016 meeting. CNN reported that none of the recently disclosed emails were sent directly to Trump Jr., who said there was no follow-up to the meeting.
The Trump Tower meeting is a matter of great interest to Special Advisor Robert Mueller, who is also investigating the intrusion. Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, son-in-law of President Trump, attended the meeting with several Russian agents under the impression that they could receive damaging information about the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Goldstone helped organize the meeting.
Another email sent on June 14, 2016, from Goldstone to one of the participants in the meeting, Ike Kaveladze, included a screenshot of a CNN story about the suspicion of Russia in a hack of the Democratic National Committee electronic files The email says that the story "seems strangely strange at our Trump meeting last week with Russian lawyers, etc."
It is not clear what the email refers to, which was read to The Associated Press. Kaveladze was at the meeting as a representative of the same family based in Moscow that Goldstone represented.
Scott Balber, Kaveladze's lawyer, said: "We have no idea what he's talking about, he's completely out of nowhere." Ike thought it was strange because it had nothing to do with what was discussed at the meeting of the last week "
Eric Tucker, writer for The Associated Press, contributed to this report.
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