Donald Trump’s nominee for the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, Sam Clovis, withdrew his candidacy Thursday, the White House announced.
Clovis has come under intense scrutiny for his possible role in the Russia investigation and specifically his relationship with former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with foreign officials linked to the Kremlin.
In a letter to the president dated Nov. 1, Clovis, an adviser with the USDA who was being considered for the agency’s undersecretary of research, education, and economics despite having no credentials in science or agriculture, wrote, “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position.”
“The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day,” Clovis added. “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’ correspondence with Papadopoulos has come under added scrutiny after unsealed court documents revealed an unknown adviser encouraging Papadopoulos to arrange meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The Washington Post reported Monday that the campaign adviser was Clovis.
At the time, Clovis’ lawyer Victoria Toensing argued her client was just “being polite” by supporting Papadopoulos in his pursuit.
But the weeks ahead could well be rocky for Clovis. The former Trump campaign official has already been questioned by Mueller’s team, NBC News reported Tuesday, and even testified before the grand jury.
Clovis, who currently serves as the USDA’s senior White House adviser, was already considered a controversial pick for the position before his links to the Russia probe came into focus. In an Oct. 17 letter obtained by the Washington Post, the former Iowa talk radio host revealed he had no academic background in science or agriculture. He also once called then-Attorney General Eric Holder a “racist black” and accused then-President Barack Obama of being a “Maoist,” CNN’s KFile reported in August.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement to reporters Thursday, “We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination.”
This is a breaking story. Refresh for updates.