Nunes said he would step aside from his committee’s investigation into Russia’s election interference until the Ethics Committee completed its inquiry, which marked the climax of a series of bizarre events that began with Nunes’s late-night excursion to the White House last March.
Nunes spoke to reporters at least twice about the classified information he’d been shown by a source he characterized as a whistleblower. (The New York Times and The Washington Post later reported that three White House officials had helped Nunes gain access to the documents.)
In separate press conferences both before and after he briefed Trump on the material, Nunes offered details about when the collection of intelligence allegedly took place—“it appears most of this occurred, from what I’ve seen, in November, December, and January”—and on whom it focused: “There was clearly significant information about President Trump and his team and there were additional names that were unmasked,” the California congressman said at the time.
Two left-leaning watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, quickly filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics and pushed for an investigation into whether Nunes’s press conferences violated House ethics rules governing the disclosure of classified information.
The Ethics Committee declared its investigation closed in December. “The Committee does not determine whether information is or is not classified,” the panel’s Republican chairwoman and Democratic ranking member said in a joint statement on December 7. “In the course of this investigation, the Committee sought the analysis of Representative Nunes’s statements by classification experts in the intelligence community. 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.”
Nunes thanked the committee “for completely clearing me today of the cloud that was created by this investigation, and for determining that I committed no violation of anything—no violation of House rules, law, regulations, or any other standards of conduct.” He blasted the investigation, after it was closed, as the result of “obviously frivolous” accusations “rooted in politically motivated complaints filed against me by left-wing activist groups.”
Now, Nunes has again come under scrutiny over his role in crafting a classified memo that has been described as a summary of surveillance abuses carried out by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department. Nunes has declined to share his findings with either his Senate counterpart, Richard Burr, or the Department of Justice.
The assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs, Stephen Boyd, urged Nunes not to release the memo in a letter last week. He noted that Nunes had not seen the underlying intelligence that would allow him to judge whether or not the department had acted inappropriately in requesting and obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, and said the memo’s disclosure could carry significant national-security risks.