Mueller Probe Sheds More Light on Sam Clovis’ Russia Connection

The news will likely further complicate Clovis' nomination by President Trump to head the USDA's top science post despite his lack of qualifications

Former Iowa governor and Trump's ambassador to China Terry Branstad, left, shakes hands with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis in February. Photo: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

On Monday, a plea agreement unsealed in Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia in the 2016 election revealed that a “campaign supervisor” communicated with Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, recommending that he make a trip to meet Russian officials. Subsequently, a lawyer for former Morningside College professor and Iowa radio host Sam Clovis, who served as national co-chairman of Trump’s campaign, confirmed that Clovis was the unnamed campaign supervisor.

The unsealed document showed that Papadopoulos emailed Clovis about a March 24, 2016, meeting he attended in London with a professor who planned to introduce him to a Russian ambassador and a woman he called “Putin’s niece.” Although Papadopoulos never ended up meeting the ambassador and later learned that the woman wasn’t Putin’s niece, he told Clovis that those he did meet with considered arranging another meeting “between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump.”

Clovis replied to Papadopoulos, saying he would “work it through the campaign” and congratulated him on his efforts to coordinate with Russian officials, adding, “great work.”

Then in August 2016, Clovis wrote Papadopoulos, telling him “I would encourage you” and another Trump foreign policy adviser to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” referring to a prospective meeting with Russian officials.

Victoria Toensing, Clovis’ attorney, on Monday denied that he supported campaign officials making the sort of trips he encouraged Papadopoulos to make, claiming Clovis “always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump and/or the campaign” and adding that his responses to the adviser’s emails were a courtesy from “a polite gentleman from Iowa.”

Clovis reportedly spoke to Mueller’s grand jury just last week.

His ties to the Mueller probe have renewed opposition to his pending appointment by Trump to head the US Department of Agriculture’s top science post despite being unqualified under federal law. On Tuesday, 3,100 scientists and researchers from two groups opposed to his nomination signed on to letters sent to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry urging its chairman, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, and top Democrat, Clovis opponent Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, not to confirm the nomination.

“In every aspect, Clovis falls far short of the standards demanded by the position,” read one of the letters (PDF), from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Gavin Aronsen
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.