Rep. Devin Nunes said at a news conference that his committee and the House oversight committee are launching the joint investigation into the uranium deal, whether there was an FBI investigation into the matter and, if so, why Congress wasn't informed.
The Republican-led probe from Nunes and oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina concerns a 2010 uranium deal that was struck between the US and Russia while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. President Donald Trump and other Republicans have accused the Russian uranium company of donating to the Clinton Foundation in an effort to sway Clinton to sign off on the deal, though the allegations are unproven. Hillary Clinton said in an interview with C-SPAN
this past week that the accusations were "baloney" and that it had been "debunked repeatedly."
The new investigation by Nunes and Gowdy is sure to further inflame the simmering partisan tensions on the intelligence committee over the investigation into Russian election interference.
Nunes, along with intelligence committee member Rep. Peter King of New York and oversight's Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida, held a news conference announcing the joint uranium probe only minutes after the House oversight and House judiciary committees said they were undertaking a separate joint investigation into how the Justice Department handled several issues relating to last year's election.
Democrats said the new investigations appeared to be an attempt to distract from the intelligence committee's investigation into Russian election meddling.
"These investigations were initiated on a partisan basis, and will shed no light on Russia's interference in the 2016 election, but then again they are not intended to do so," California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in a statement. "Acting on the urging of the President who has repeatedly denied the intelligence agencies' conclusions regarding Russian involvement in our election, they are designed to distract attention and pursue the President's preferred goal -- attacking Clinton and Obama."
Republicans defended the new probes. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican who took charge of the House intelligence investigation into Russia's election meddling after Nunes stepped aside, told CNN he supported the new Nunes probe.
Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, also a House intelligence member, told CNN: "It's separate from the Russian election" investigation. "We look at a lot of things, and this is another one that needs to be looked at. I don't agree with that at all that it's a distraction."
Earlier this year, Nunes temporarily stepped aside from the committee's Russia investigation following a House ethics committee investigation into his handling of classified information, although he has continued to issue subpoenas for the probe, a sore spot with Democrats.
The California Republican told reporters Tuesday that the new investigation was separate from the Russia probe into election meddling.
"Well, the current Russia investigation is about the election. This is more about uranium and whether or not government functioned properly or not," Nunes said.
Allegations surrounding the uranium deal resurfaced this past week when The Hill reported the
FBI was investigating the donations and did not inform Congress.
"We're not going to jump to any conclusions at this time," Nunes said. "But one of the things that you know that we're concerned about is whether or not there was an FBI investigation. Was there a DOJ investigation? And if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter? So that will be the start of the probe."
Nunes said that he has not spoken to the White House about the matter. The new investigation was being driven, he said, by conversations the committee has had with informants over the past several months.
He also noted there's concern about a whistleblower who signed a non-disclosure agreement. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley sent a letter last week to the Justice Department urging the non-disclosure agreement to be lifted so Congress could speak to the whistleblower.