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Clovis withdraws from USDA nomination in wake of Mueller probe

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Iowan Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the USDA’s chief scientist, has withdrawn his name from consideration after being linked to a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pled guilty to lying to the FBI over his contacts with Russia.

Clovis’ announcement on Nov. 2 came just three days after his name surfaced in special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shortly after the decision.

In federal court filings, documents show that an unnamed campaign supervisor encouraged Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos to set up meetings with the Russians for the Trump campaign. The Washington Post and other media have identified Clovis as the “campaign supervisor.”

It was announced on Nov. 1 that Papadopoulos had pled guilty weeks earlier after he had been charged in July in a sealed indictment. The announcement came on the same day that Mueller charged two other former Trump campaign officials on allegations connected with their involvement with the Ukraine government and Ukrainian officials.

Clovis, a former Iowa conservative talk radio host who led Trump’s campaign in Iowa, was nominated in September to serve as the USDA’s chief scientist and under secretary for research, education and economists. The chief science post is a high-ranking position that provides oversight to the service agencies vital to the farm industry: the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Service (ERS).

In his letter to the President stepping aside, Clovis wrote: “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive a balanced and fair consideration for this position.” He said he will continue to serve as a USDA senior White House advisor. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day,” he added.

A Senate hearing on Clovis’ appointment had been scheduled for Nov. 9.

Within hours of his nomination two months ago, Clovis came under attack from the scientific community and others, on concerns he was not a scientist. Brenda Brink, a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, told National Public Radio at the time, “Frankly, I’m appalled, because he’s not made any bones about being a scientist and yet he’s been appointed to this position where he’s elevated to the level of a scientist.”

After Clovis withdrew his name, Ricardo Salvador, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “For half a year, the Trump administration has left vacant the most important government posts for farmers, researchers, rural communities and consumers.

“Scientific leadership from the USDA and other federal agencies is needed to solve the nation’s most challenging scientific problems, and Mr. Clovis lacks both the skill set and the judgment needed to manage the responsible investment of billions of tax dollars in a safe, sustainable, productive food system. Now it’s time to move on.”

As of press time, Trump had not named a new candidate for the USDA post.