Why Devin Nunes is pulling back from the Russia probe

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the shakeup in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

For more on what led House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to step aside, we're joined by Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post.

Robert, thank you very much.

The last we heard, Devin Nunes wasn't going to recuse himself. You talked to him today. What changed?

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post: I spoke with the chairman by phone. And he does remain the chairman. He told me he wants to keep that gavel.

But he will step away from the investigation into Russia. There is an ethics complaint about him that's rising inside of the House. And this has caused some problems for him as chairman about how he has handled classified information. And so he's going to hand off the reins to some other Republicans on the committee and let the Senate Intelligence Committee do its work as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what is that Ethics Committee — what is the nub of their concern? Do we know?

ROBERT COSTA: The focus of it is on how Chairman Nunes went to the White House, associated himself with different intelligence officials and White House employees, as he looked into not only Russian interference, but the Obama administration's activities and efforts on the Russian issue during last year's election.

And how he proceeded in dealing with the White House in terms of having a quiet meeting there with certain officials has raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill and it's caused him some problems in terms of other members raising questions about his ethics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you are referring to other Republican members; is that right?

ROBERT COSTA: Democrats are raising concerns, and so are Republicans. Republicans, in general, Judy, are skittish about Nunes.

And they believe that the Russian matter is not a political winner, and that the way Nunes has handled it has left a lot of Republicans vulnerable to mounting questions as they head home to recess.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Robert, what do we know about Representative Conaway, Mike Conaway, of Texas, who is going to be stepping in to overseeing the Russia investigation?

ROBERT COSTA: He has looked into the Russian matter before. He has worked closely with Nunes, so you have a Nunes ally.

But Democrat Adam Schiff of California, who is the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, there is still concern on the Democratic side about the integrity of this committee moving forward. Even with Nunes gone, he's still chairman. He's still influencing Conaway and others on the committee. Can it be independent? Can it be judicious?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, separately, Robert, I want to ask you about what you're learning about any — whether there's been any progress on the part of Republicans in trying to resurrect a bill, legislation to overturn and replace Obamacare?

ROBERT COSTA: As a reporter, I would refer to it as incremental progress, if anything.

You had Speaker Paul Ryan head to the White House on Thursday night. He met with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President Pence. And they talked through the president's demand to congressional leaders to do something on health care. Yes, it fell apart, but the message from the president to this group of the speaker and top White House officials was, do something.

And so they're looking into high-risk insurance pools, about reforming that aspect of the Affordable Care Act, moving — trying to save some costs, at least from the Republican view, as they look for different little tweaks that could get some kind of GOP consensus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying, as they go into recess, they will continue to work on that?

ROBERT COSTA: It's about talking about working on it, more than anything.

This was only a Rules Committee hearing on Friday that looked into making these kinds of changes in terms of how insurance is structured with pooling. But there is no legislation that's headed to the floor soon. Why not? The answer is simple. There are just not the votes there yet among House Republicans to get much of anything through on health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Robert Costa reporting from The Washington Post, thank you, Robert.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

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