Agriculture committee chairman Mike Conaway of Texas is now leading the House Russia probe
He received bipartisan praise Thursday related to his promotion
Rep. Mike Conaway has been given the reins to the House intelligence committee’s fractured Russia investigation following chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ announcement Thursday that he is temporarily stepping aside — but who is the man now tasked with getting things back on track after weeks of partisan conflict?
A seven-term Republican representing Texas’$2 11th Congressional District, Conaway is the chairman of the agriculture committee in addition to serving as a member of the intelligence committee and Armed Services Committee.
He has also chaired the House ethics committee during his time in Washington.
A member of the House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency and CIA, Conaway has expressed skepticism over the intent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, pushing FBI director James Comey during a hearing last month on the FBI’s assessment that Russia interfered to help Trump.
Specifically, Conaway took issue with Comey’s logic that Putin’s hate for Hillary Clinton meant a clear preference for the person running against her, comparing the FBI director’s conclusion to a college football rivalry.
According to his website, Conaway is conservative who “believes in the principles of lower taxes, smaller government and a secure nation.”
He has been a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump since he emerged from the Republican primary as the presumptive nominee, officially endorsing Trump in May 2016 in a letter co-signed by nine House chairmen.
“It is paramount that we coalesce around the Republican nominee, Mr. Donald J. Trump, and maintain control of both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate,” the letter said.
Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem optimistic that Conaway will be able to act impartially, despite the fact that it was his predecessor’s ties to the Trump transition team that fueled complaints from Democrats that he shared classified information during a clandestine meeting at the White House.
“I have confidence in Mike Conaway,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California. “Hopefully now we come back with a clear path to an independent, credible investigation.”
“He’s an accountant,” fellow Texas Republican Will Hurd told CNN. “And so he knows how to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he is confident that Conaway will conduct “a professional investigation into Russia’s actions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Unlike Nunes, Conaway did not have a formal role on Trump’s campaign or transition teams outside of offering his endorsement and vocalizing his strong opposition to Clinton.
But he has received criticism over comments related to the Russian investigation during 2016 campaign, comparing Mexican entertainers performing at Clinton campaign rallies and email hacking orchestrated by the Russian government.
“Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News in January. “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada.”
During the same interview, Conaway was asked whether he considers that on par with Russian hacking aimed to damage Clinton’s campaign and said: “Sure it is, it’s foreign influence,” according to the Dallas Morning News. “If we’re worried about foreign influence, let’s have the whole story.”
Conaway did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for a comment on the 2016 interview with the Dallas Morning News.
Despite weeks of partisan-fueled controversy that ultimately thrust him into the role of chief investigator of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, Conaway said he hopes to work with the committee’s Democrats to get the probe back on track.
“We’re going to pursue the investigation, follow every lead to its logical conclusion,” Conaway said. “We’re going to conduct the investigation and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue every lead.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said that Nunes made a “difficult decision” to step aside from the Russia investigation, but that it would lead to a “fresh start.”