Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, offered a different explanation for his decision to step aside from the panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election at a fundraiser in California in early April, the day after he stepped down from the probe.
He also hinted that he was eager to return to the probe, which he painted as an attempt by Democrats to explain away Hillary Clinton’s election loss.
Nunes told attendees at the Tulare County Lincoln Dinner that he stepped aside in order to protect vulnerable Republican House members from facing questions about his actions from the media, according to a video of the event published by the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. The video was provided to the newspaper by someone who attended the event and filmed part of Nunes’ remarks.
“The reporters and the national news were going to chase David and every other member of Congress around the country for the next two weeks. Basically what I said, I said, ‘Well, screw you,’” Nunes said at the fundraiser, referring to neighboring Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). “So I did something that they never thought I would do and I stepped aside, and I gave them a gift.”
At the time, Nunes said he stepped down from the probe due to complaints he said “leftwing activist groups” filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics. He had come under fire for going directly to President Donald Trump with information he alleged showed that the Obama administration asked for the names of Trump transition officials to be improperly unmasked in intelligence reports on foreign nationals.
Nunes told the attendees at the April fundraiser that he would return to the helm of the Russia probe as soon as the ethics charges against him were cleared up.
“And guess what? When these ethics charges are gone then I’m going to be back again,” he said.
He also complained about Democrats’ focus on the Russia investigation, claiming that Democrats only want to talk about Russia’s election meddling in order to excuse Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.
“The Democrats don’t want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission,” Nunes said at the fundraiser. “Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton could have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault.”
“They have tried to destroy this Russia investigation, they’ve never been serious about it,” he added.