USDA nominee Clovis was Trump adviser who encouraged Russia meeting: report

USDA nominee Clovis was Trump adviser who encouraged Russia meeting: report
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Sam Clovis, a controversial nominee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE , was the campaign official who encouraged George Papadopoulos to set up a meeting with Russian officials, according to The Washington Post.

Clovis, who was then the campaign co-chairman, encouraged Papadopoulos to make the trip to Russia in order to take an “off the record” meeting with government officials there, the Post reported late Monday.

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Papadopoulos was thrust into the spotlight on Monday when special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed court filings indicating that the former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia-connected foreign nationals. Mueller is leading an investigation into the campaign's ties to Russia.

According to those documents, Papadopoulos corresponded with an unnamed individual — identified only as a “campaign supervisor” — in March regarding his contact with a foreign professor and a Russian woman about setting up a meeting between Russian officials and the campaign. The documents alleged that the intention of the meeting was to discuss U.S.-Russia relations under a prospective Trump administration. “Great work,” the supervisor is quoted as telling Papadopoulos. 

Months later, the supervisor also told Papadopoulos to make a trip to Russia “if it is feasible” in order to take a meeting with Russian officials. The meeting in question never took place. Now, the Post is identifying the campaign supervisor as Clovis. 

Clovis’s lawyer Victoria Toensing told the Post that Clovis “always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump and/or the campaign” and described Clovis’s statements to Papadopoulos as him “being polite.”

Papadopoulos was arrested in July and entered into a plea agreement with the government in early October. The special counsel revealed on Monday that top Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Richard Gates have also been indicted on multiple charges associated with money laundering and their financial dealings overseas, to which they are pleading not guilty. 

Clovis, who now serves as the White House liaison to USDA, is Trump’s choice to serve as the department’s chief scientist. He has been scrutinized by Democrats for his lack of credentials and is likely to face a difficult road to confirmation.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders indicated Tuesday that the reports would not affect Clovis' status as a nominee for the top USDA post. 

“I’m not aware that any chance would be necessary at this time," Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing. 

Clovis is set to face a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 9.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste EPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries MORE (R-Kan.) said Tuesday that Clovis is fully cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference, according to Politico

This story was updated at 2:48 p.m. to reflect statements from the White House.