Russia-Tainted Ignoramus Sam Clovis Faces Opposition over USDA Science Post

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Sam Clovis speaking at a rally for Donald Trump at Iowa State University in January 2016. Photo: Alex Hanson/Flickr

Last week, President Trump made official months-long expectations that Sam Clovis, a former talk radio host and Morningside College business professor with no previous background in science or agriculture policy, would be tapped to head the US Department of Agriculture’s top science post, undersecretary of research, education, and economics.

But Clovis’ nomination will face opposition, as evidenced by recent comments made by Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Senate’s Ag Committee. “This nominee seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill,” Stabenow said, according to a Successful Farming report. “I also have many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group, also came out strongly against Clovis, saying in a statement that his nomination was illegal. Under US law established by the 2008 Farm Bill, the post is meant for the USDA’s “chief scientist,” who must be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

In addition to his lack of experience in food and ag policy — if confirmed, he would oversee a $2 billion research program — Clovis has also been a consistent climate change denier and has ties to the Russia scandal plaguing the Trump administration. Already, Clovis has been serving as a USDA adviser for Trump, in January signing off on a memo ordering researchers to stop issuing press releases about their work in a possible effort to censor information about it.

During his failed 2014 bid for Senate, Clovis told Iowa Public Radio he was “extremely skeptical” about climate science. “I have looked at the science and I have enough of a science background to know when I’m being boofed,” he said. “And a lot of the science is junk science. It’s not proven; I don’t think there’s any substantive information available to me that doesn’t raise as many questions as it does answers.” (None of this is true.)

Clovis also reportedly recruited Carter Page as a Trump foreign policy adviser, vetting him with nothing more than a cursory Google search. The process apparently overlooked the fact that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013, when Russian officials may have tried to use him to gain information about the US energy industry. By the summer of 2016, shortly after he joined the Trump team as an adviser, the FBI began surveilling him, suspicious he might have been working as a Kremlin agent.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.