White House: No change in plans for Sam Clovis nomination

The White House said on Tuesday there are no plans to withdraw the nomination of Sam Clovis for a Department of Agriculture position, despite Clovis becoming a central figure in the Russia investigation.

Clovis, who was tapped to be the science adviser to the Agriculture Department, faces a confirmation hearing in the Senate later this month.

But questions are swirling around him after special counsel Robert Mueller revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos, a low-level foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pled guilty on charges he lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

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The statement of offense against Papadopoulos revealed that his campaign supervisor had encouraged him to set up meetings with Russians in an effort to learn more about hacked emails belonging to Democrats.

Several media outlets have reported that Papadopoulos reported directly to Clovis.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing that he would remain the Agriculture nominee for now.

“I’m not aware that any change would be necessary at this point,” she said.

Trump and the White House have been seeking to separate themselves from Papadopoulos, casting the 29-year-old as an unpaid adviser with no defined responsibilities.

Sanders said the only time Trump met him was at a photographed meeting of national security advisers that Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE also attended.

“The only interaction was the one meeting that the advisory council gathered together in a large group of other people in the room, and to my knowledge, that was the only interaction they ever had,” she said. “Again, this is a campaign volunteer. He was not somebody that was a senior advisor, as a many of you want to bill him to be. He was somebody that played a minimal role, if at all. It was part a volunteer advisory board.”

According to Papadopoulos’s plea agreement, he has been actively cooperating with the special counsel investigation into allegations of improper contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians since he was arrested in July.

Court documents show Papadopoulos sought several meetings with Russian officials and was encouraged to continue down that path by at least one of his campaign supervisors and potentially three or four more.

Sanders said on Tuesday that she did not know who else in the campaign might have spoken to Papadopoulos about setting up meetings with Russians, but the meetings apparently never materialized.

“He made multiple attempts at setting up meetings that were constantly rebuffed,” Sanders said. “He also made false statements to investigators. That’s something the campaign and administration would never support. All of his emails were voluntarily provided to that special counsel by the campaign, and that is how they got to the place are in right now.”

“What Papadopoulos did was lie,” she added. “That is on him and not the campaign. We cannot speak for that.”