Trump USDA pick linked to Mueller probe withdraws nomination

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Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign official who has become entangled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, has withdrawn his nomination for a top post in the Agriculture Department.
“We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Clovis was nominated to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist. He was already facing scrutiny over his apparent lack of credentials for the post.
In a Thursday letter to Trump obtained by The Hill, Clovis blamed the “political climate” for his decision to withdraw.
“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote.
“The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day. 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.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee was said to be planning a Nov. 9 hearing for Clovis’s nomination to the post overseeing billions of dollars of research and education for the Agriculture Department. But the panel never formally scheduled the hearing.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, told reporters Clovis “made a wise decision” to drop out the confirmation process. Roberts said he did not ask Clovis to withdraw.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement that Clovis’s withdrawal is a victory for science and farmers.
“From day one, it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers,” she said. “His lack of qualifications and long history of politically divisive statements were disqualifying, and the recent news surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign has raised even more questions.”
She told reporters that Clovis’s confirmation would have “barely” passed the Agriculture Committee, but may not have passed in the full Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had previously identified Clovis as a top target for Democrats to block.
A USDA spokesman said Clovis plans to stay at the department as a senior adviser, a position he has held since January, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation but lacks any formal power.
Clovis became embroiled in the controversy surrounding Russia’s influence on the presidential election this week when campaign aide George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement during the investigation. Clovis was quickly revealed to be the high-level campaign official with whom Papadopoulos allegedly spoke about communicating with Russian officials.
The Washington Post reported that Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, encouraged Papadopoulos to travel to Russia. 
Clovis was reportedly cooperating with investigators in the Russia investigation and spoke to a grand jury last week.
But even before the Russia news, Clovis was under fire for his nomination. He admitted in a letter last month to Democrats that he has no credentials in hard science, following accusations from environmentalists and Democrats that he was unqualified for the post.
CNN found numerous previous radio appearances and online posts in which Clovis made highly controversial racial remarks, such as accusing public schools of indoctrinating children on racism and environmentalism.
Tags Chuck Schumer Debbie Stabenow Pat Roberts

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