April 6 (UPI) -- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes announced Thursday he will temporarily step aside from the panel's investigation into Russian election interference.
Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation or step down as chairman. They accuse him of biasing himself by appearing too close to the White House after President Donald Trump accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of tapping his phones. Trump has offered no direct evidence to support the allegation, but Nunes said the House panel would include Trump's accusation into its election hacking probe.
Later, Nunes said he had viewed intelligence that suggested members of Trump's campaign had been caught up in incidental intelligence gathered by the U.S. government on other targets. Typically, when U.S. citizens are caught up in surveillance of foreign actors, their identities are redacted from transcripts, but Nunes said intelligence agencies under Obama intentionally failed to take such precautions for Trump's inner circle, effectively making them targets.
Nunes for days refused to reveal the sources of the information, saying he had to protect their anonymity. It was subsequently reported the intelligence Nunes spoke about had come from two officials inside the White House.
Democrats said Nunes, who was a member of Trump's transition team, compromised the investigation by showing the evidence to Trump before the full committee was able to vet it.
Nunes said the calls for him to step aside were "politically motivated."
"Several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics," Nunes said in the statement. "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 unmaking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power."
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday said Nunes still had his "full confidence" as committee chairman but agreed with his decision to walk off the Russia investigation.
A trio of Republican lawmakers will take the lead, Nunes said.
The House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia's role hacking Democratic groups amid the 2016 election is one of three active probes in Washington on the subject. The Senate Intelligence Committee is taking up its own inquiry, as is the FBI.