Trump nominee named in Russia scandal withdraws his nomination for top USDA science post

Sam Clovis is withdrawing due to to the “political climate” which he claims “has made it impossible for [him] to receive balanced and fair consideration."

(CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Sam Clovis, former co-national chair of the Trump presidential campaign, has withdrawn his nomination for the top science post at the United States Department of Agriculture, citing the “political climate,” which he claims “has made it impossible for [him] to receive balanced and fair consideration.”

“The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day,” Clovis wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump dated November 1. “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.”

Clovis currently serves as Senior White House Adviser to the USDA and will continue in that role, which does not require a Senate confirmation.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that that Clovis was the campaign supervisor for George Papadopoulos, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his communication with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Clovis reportedly told Papadopoulos “great work” in relation to his attempts to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and encouraged Papadopoulos to make a trip to Russia to meet with a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece. Clovis has been questioned in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In addition to Clovis’ connection to the Russia investigation, Democratic lawmakers, along with environmental and science groups, opposed his nomination for undersecretary of research, education, and economics because Clovis lacked any significant experience in the natural, nutritional, or agricultural sciences.

In a letter to Clovis sent in mid-October, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, asked him to list “all graduate level courses you have taken in natural science,” “all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations,” and “any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science.” In every instance, Clovis’ answer was “none.”

Clovis also rejected the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change, calling it “junk science” and “not proven” in a 2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio. He accused President Obama of “race baiting” and called progressives “the real racists.”

Opponents of Clovis’ nomination issued statements cheering the withdrawal of his nomination, though some expressed regret that the withdrawal was due to links to the Russian investigation and not the fact that he lacked experience in the hard sciences.

“Nominating a non-scientist to serve as USDA’s top scientist was a preposterous notion from day one and a brazen display of cronyism,” Martin Hayden, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice said in a statement. “Sam Clovis was manifestly unqualified to serve in this role and never had any business setting foot in the Department of Agriculture, much less steering its research priorities.”

Stabenow, who had long opposed Clovis’ nomination, called his withdrawal “a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research.”

And Climate Hawks Vote — one of the first groups to publicly oppose the nomination — called Clovis “a bush league Rush Limbaugh-style political hack, nominated only because he co-chaired Trump’s campaign.”

“This particular crazy conspiracy theorist, railing against schools teaching evolution, environmentalism, and racism, was simply too toxic,” RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote, said in an email to ThinkProgress. “We’re looking forward to exposing the next unqualified toxic conspiracy theorist.”