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Trump ally suspends participation in Russia investigation.

Summary: The Republican head of a congressional inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election said he would temporarily step aside from the probe Thursday because he is under investigation for disclosing classified information.

WASHINGTON: The Republican head of a congressional inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election said he would temporarily step aside from the probe Thursday because he is under investigation for disclosing classified information. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and an ally of President Donald Trump, characterized charges that he made unauthorized disclosures of classified information as "entirely false and politically motivated."

The surprise disclosure that Nunes was under investigation injected new uncertainty into the wider Russia probe by his committee. The investigation is one of several in Congress examining whether Russia tried to influence the election in Trump's favor, mostly by hacking Democratic operatives' emails and releasing embarrassing information, or possibly by colluding with Trump associates.

The House Ethics Committee issued a statement saying it would investigate allegations Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information "in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct."

Nunes said in a statement that he had decided to step aside from the Russia investigation to fight the allegations and wanted "to expedite the dismissal of these false claims." He will continue as committee chairman.

Representative Mike Conaway, the most senior Republican on the intelligence committee, will now lead the probe. While he was a strong supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign, the seven-term congressman was not a member of Trump's transition team, unlike Nunes.

Nunes has insisted that no classified information was revealed, but Democrats and former intelligence lawyers said it was clear he had done so. Nunes said during his March 22 news conference that what he was discussing was "all classified."

In other developments, Senate Republicans Thursday crushed a Democratic blockade of Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee in a fierce partisan brawl, approving a rule change dubbed the "nuclear option" to allow for conservative judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation by Friday.

With ideological control of the nation's highest court at stake, the Republican-led Senate voted 52-48 along party lines to change its long-standing rules in order to prohibit a procedural tactic called a filibuster against Supreme Court nominees. That came after Republicans failed by a 55-45 tally to muster the 60-vote super-majority needed to end the Democratic filibuster that had sought to deny Gorsuch confirmation to the lifetime post.

The Senate's action paved the way to confirm Gorsuch by simple majority, with a vote expected at roughly 7 p.m. Friday. Republicans control the Senate 52-48. The rule change was called the "nuclear option" because it was considered an extreme break with Senate tradition.

Trump had encouraged Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "go nuclear." Confirmation of Gorsuch would represent Trump's first major victory since taking office on Jan. 20, after setbacks on health care legislation and his blocked order to prevent people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

"This will be the first and last partisan filibuster of the Supreme Court," McConnell said on the Senate floor, accusing Democrats of trying to inflict political damage on Trump and to keep more conservatives from joining the high court.

Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat court's 5-4 conservative majority, enable Trump to leave an indelible mark on America's highest judicial body and fulfill a top campaign promise by the Republican president. Gorsuch could be expected to serve for decades.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Apr 7, 2017
Words:616
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