POLITICS
11/02/2017 11:14 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2017

Trump's USDA Pick With Ties To Russia Investigation Withdraws Nomination

Sam Clovis was poised to become the USDA's chief scientist, despite having no science background.

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick to become the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, has withdrawn his nomination.

In a letter to Trump dated Nov. 1, he said it “saddens me that circumstances will not allow me to fulfill” expectations of a role for which critics said Clovis, who is not a scientist, was ill-suited. 

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” he wrote in the letter. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day. As I am focused on your success and the success of this Administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence, particularly with so much important work left to do for the American people.” 

Yet he said he would continue to serve as an adviser to the White House and to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. 

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

The move came days after news that Clovis, a former Iowa talk radio host and political science professor, was named in court documents as one of the Trump campaign officials in contact with George Papadopoulos, the campaign foreign policy adviser who admitted to making false statements to the FBI about his ties to Russian officials. 

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Then-candidate Donald Trump at a press conference in August 2016, soon after appointing Sam Clovis as the national co-chairman of the Trump campaign.

Papadopoulos included Clovis on a March 24, 2016, email thread to discuss a meeting he had in London with a professor who had introduced him to the Russian ambassador and a Russian woman he described as “Putin’s niece,” according to The Washington Post. Clovis became “a fully cooperative witness” in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Politico reported earlier this week. 

“This is Dr. Clovis’ decision,” a USDA spokesperson told HuffPost in an email. “He has laid out his reasons in the attached letter.”

His exit may come as a relief to science advocates.

In an Oct. 17 letter obtained by The Washington Post, Clovis admitted to having no hard background in the subject. 

Clovis, who possesses a bachelor’s degree in political science, an MBA degree and a doctorate in public administration, repeatedly acknowledged his lack of background in the hard sciences when responding to Stabenow.

“Please list all graduate level courses you have taken in natural science,”  the second of 10 questions requested.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please list all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations,” the third question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please describe any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science,” the fourth question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

Then came the fifth question, which asked, “What specialized training or significant experience, including certifications, do you have in agricultural research?”

He answered: “I bring 17 years of agriculture experience integrated into both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses throughout my teaching career as reflected in my curriculum vitae as well as the Committee’s questionnaire.” And having twice run for statewide office, he added that “one cannot be a credible candidate in that state without significant agricultural experience and knowledge.”

Clovis, an early Trump supporter, is a birther conspiracy theorist who described former President Barack Obama and his black and Latino Cabinet members as “racists.” He once accused progressives in a since-deleted blog post of “enslaving” minorities, called black leaders “race traders” and said Obama was a “Maoist” with “communist” roots. The blog can still be seen on the Internet archive, the Wayback Machine

Like many others in the Trump administration, he also rejects the science behind climate change.

“Clovis’ only apparent qualifications to head this critical science post [are] that he lives in agriculture-heavy Iowa and is a shameless Trump supporter,” Josh Nelson, deputy political director of the progressive group CREDO, wrote on a petition urging the Senate to reject his nomination. “Clovis is instead deeply anti-science, claiming the overwhelming evidence behind climate change is ‘not proven’ and ‘junk science’ and has stated that he will not prioritize climate change in the agency’s policy.”

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