Climate-denying talk radio host Trump picked for top science post now at center of Russia scandal

Sam Clovis, who emailed with George Papadopoulos about Russia, is going before the Senate on November 9.

Sam Clovis during a 2014 Senate debate in Iowa. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Sam Clovis during a 2014 Senate debate in Iowa. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Sam Clovis, one of the Trump administration’s more controversial nominees for a political appointment, was already raising eyebrows ahead of his November 9 confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. To start, Clovis — who has been nominated to the position of undersecretary of research, education, and economics at the United States Department of Agriculture, the agency’s top science position — has no background in the the hard sciences, nor any experience with agricultural or nutritional science. Clovis is also a staunch climate science denier who accused President Barack Obama of “race baiting” and has called progressives “the real racists.”

But on Monday, Clovis’ nomination took on new meaning when it was revealed that, while working as national co-chairman of the Trump campaign, he had encouraged George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser, to meet with Russian nationals in a potential effort to bolster the campaign. On Monday, unsealed court documents revealed that Papadopoulos had plead guilty to lying to federal agents about his communication with Russia.

“I would encourage you” to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote in an August email to Papadopoulos, in response to plans suggested by Papadopoulos to go to Russia and meet with Russian officials off the record. Clovis also praised Papadopoulos’ outreach efforts, telling him “great work” in regards to a March 2016 meeting during which Papadopoulos and a London professor, as well as a Russian woman incorrectly described as “Putin’s niece,” discussed plans for a potential meeting between the campaign and “Russian leadership.”

Clovis, who joined the Trump presidential campaign early in 2015, was first nominated to be the USDA’s top scientist in late July. His nomination garnered criticism from key Democratic leaders in the Senate, including the Agriculture Committee’s ranking minority member, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

“I have strong concerns that Sam Clovis is not qualified to be USDA Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics, which dually serves as the Department’s Chief Scientist,” Stabenow said in a press statement shortly after Clovis’ nomination was made official. “This nominee seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill. I also have many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education.”

The position of undersecretary of research, education, and economics at the USDA has historically gone to candidates with experience in either science or public health. Past undersecretaries include biochemists, plant physiologists, food nutrition experts, and public health experts. Clovis, by contrast, has a doctorate in public administration and was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. He also mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

He has called climate change “junk science” and “not proven,” and told E&E News in October of 2016 that a Trump administration would not prioritize climate science at the USDA.

Before joining the Trump campaign, Clovis hosted a conservative talk-radio show. While working on the campaign, Clovis advised the campaign in matters of foreign policy, reportedly having a significant role in crafting the campaign’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Clovis was also reportedly responsible for bringing Carter Page onto the campaign. Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, has come under scrutiny for trips he made to Russia during the campaign. On Monday night, Page told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he “may have” exchanged emails with Papadopoulos about Russia.

And while Page “may have” exchanged emails with Papadopoulos about Russia, Clovis almost certainly did — making his connections to Russia during the campaign a potential point of questioning for senators during his upcoming confirmation hearing, during which he will be testifying under oath.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, told Politico on Monday night that the confirmation hearing was still set to be held on November 9, despite Monday’s revelations about Clovis’ proximity to Papadopoulos.

“I don’t think he’s a target of any investigation,” Roberts told Politico’s Catherine Boudreau.