Embattled Rep. Devin Nunes is stepping down from leading the Trump-Russia probe

AP

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Thursday that in the face of allegations he broke ethics rules, he'll temporarily step aside from an investigation of Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In a defiant statement, Nunes (R-Calif.) said the allegations had been lobbed by "left-wing activist groups."

Those allegations, Nunes said, "are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power."

Although he called the charges "baseless," Nunes said it would be in the best interest of Congress to step aside while the ethics committee looked into the charges.

The House Committee on Ethics in a statement said its members are "aware of public allegations that Rep. Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House rules, law, regulations or other standards of conduct." 

Nunes has come under fire for his handling of the Russia probe, including inquiries about potential ties between foreign agents and the Trump campaign. The criticism started to boil when Nunes went to the White House with information about the investigation before sharing it with his congressional colleagues.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Nunes "has earned my trust over many years for his integrity."

"He continues to have that trust, and I know he is eager to demonstrate to the ethics committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws," Ryan said.

Ryan said he supported Nunes' choice to step down noting the process would distract from the Russia investigation. Nunes' role will now fall to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a senior member of the intelligence committee.

"I am confident that [Conaway] will oversee a professional investigation into Russia's actions and follow the facts wherever they lead," Ryan concluded.