Agriculture Department pick Sam Clovis withdraws nomination after being identified in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Sam Clovis, the nominee for the Agriculture Department’s top scientific post, has withdrawn from consideration after being identified as one of the Trump campaign officials with whom former campaign aide George Papadopoulos communicated about his Russian contacts.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Court documents unsealed Monday that spelled out a guilty plea deal Papadopoulos struck with special counsel Robert S. Mueller on Oct. 5 cite emails from the foreign policy adviser to candidate Trump to more-senior campaign officials pressing them to meet with his Russian contacts, who claimed connections to the Kremlin and promised “dirt” on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In his letter to Trump withdrawing his nomination, Clovis took some shots at Washington, complaining about criticism of him and the president.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day … I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence.”

As recently as Monday, the White House was standing by Clovis.

When asked if the president was still comfortable with Clovis taking on the USDA role, Sanders told reporters she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary.”

In one such exchange, from May 2016, Papadopoulos emailed campaign officials that his Russian contacts wanted to meet with the candidate. Higher-ups did not rule out meetings with Russian officials, according to the court documents.

“Lets discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” the senior campaign official replied, referring to Trump. “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

According to multiple reports, Clovis was the supervisor of Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia-connected individuals.

Even before the Papadopoulos revelations, Senate Democrats had called for Clovis to withdraw his nomination because of his rejection of climate science and his “extremist views” on race and homosexuality.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts had also expressed reservations about Clovis, who in 2013 suggested that federal subsidies for crop insurance may be unconstitutional.

Other opponents of Clovis’ nomination have pointed to the 2008 farm bill, which calls for someone with a strong scientific background to serve as USDA’s chief scientist. Clovis lacks scientific credentials.

Democrats celebrated the withdrawal. “Sam Clovis was almost a comically bad nominee, even for this administration. He is inarguably unqualified, and he is wrong on almost every major issue relevant to the chief scientist post to which he was nominated,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy said in a release.

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