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  • FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2017, file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Ethics Committee has cleared the chairman of the House intelligence committee on a complaint that he may have leaked classified information. The decision paves the way for Rep. Devin Nunes of California to again lead the intelligence panel's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Thursday, December 07, 2017 9:08 pm

House ethics panel: Nunes didn't leak classified information

By TOM LoBIANCO and MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) The House Ethics Committee on Thursday cleared the chairman of the House intelligence committee on a complaint that he may have leaked classified information, paving the way for Rep. Devin Nunes to again lead his panel's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The Ethics Committee said in a brief statement that it determined Nunes, a California Republican, did not release classified material while talking about information he had received on a clandestine trip to the White House in April. Nunes had stepped aside from the Russia probe pending the ethics investigation and amid criticism that he was too close to the White House.

If Nunes were to return to the investigation, it would put a close ally of President Donald Trump at the head of one of the congressional investigations into whether Russia coordinated with his 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 led the probe in Nunes' absence.

Citing intelligence experts, the Ethics Committees said it determined that Nunes did not publicly reveal classified information when he discussed secret documents he reviewed on the White House grounds earlier this year. When the committee opened its probe of Nunes in April, Nunes said he would step aside temporarily, pending the ethics review. He has remained close to the matter, though, retaining access to documents and subpoena power as the chairman of the intelligence panel.

Nunes said in a statement Thursday night he was angry the review sidelined him for eight months and said it was prompted by partisan criticism. He also said he wanted the panel to release its transcripts of its interviews with him.

Two watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, had requested the inquiry into whether Nunes disclosed classified information he learned from intelligence reports. At a news conference in March after the trip to the White House, Nunes had said that communications involving Trump associates had been swept up by U.S. spy agencies and, he suggested, mishandled by the Obama administration.

He also said then he had met with a secret source at the White House to review material and then briefed the president. Watchdog groups said Nunes had apparently violated House rules by publicly disclosing the existence of a foreign surveillance warrant.

Nunes did not say in Thursday's statement if he would retake control of the House Russia investigation.

A Nunes spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday evening.

The announcement comes as the House probe has stepped up its pace of interviews, meeting with dozens of important witnesses as they eye a finish next year.