Clovis Withdraws from USDA Post Consideration over Ties to Russia Probe

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

Sam Clovis, the former Morningside College economics professor, talk radio host, and Trump national campaign co-chair, has withdrawn himself from consideration for the US Department of Agriculture’s top science post that the president nominated him for in July. He dropped out amid renewed scrutiny of his nomination after news broke this week about his connection to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.

A plea agreement unsealed Monday as part of Mueller’s probe revealed that a “campaign supervisor” who was quickly confirmed to be Clovis had recommended that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos make a trip to meet with Russian officials in August 2016. Papadopoulos, who was arrested at an airport last year, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with people connected to Russia’s government, which included efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Clovis reportedly told Trump on Wednesday that he would no longer seek confirmation to the USDA post, which under US federal law he wasn’t qualified for in the first place — the 2008 Farm Bill stipulates that the post is designated for the department’s “chief scientist,” who must be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” Clovis, who currently serves as the USDA’s senior White House adviser, has no background in science nor any previous experience in ag policy.

Today, the Washington Post reported that it had obtained an Oct. 17 letter (embedded below) Clovis sent to Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee who had opposed his nomination from the start, in which Clovis admits to having no academic credentials in agriculture or science. In the letter, Clovis claimed he was “proud of being a major contributor to the development of the successful undergraduate agricultural program at Morningside College” and argued his failed bids for the US Senate and later state treasurer in 2014 further qualified him for the USDA post.

Before news broke today that Clovis had withdrawn his name from consideration for the post, he was hit with a deluge of national news coverage that included a report from CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, who obtained a 2011 newsletter Clovis wrote when he was still a radio host claiming that progressives were “indoctrinating children” with “several ‘isms’ that tend to warp and twist the logic and intellectual development of children essentially held captive eight hours a day in a government-mandated system,” including racism and environmentalism. In August, Kaczynski uncovered blog posts written by Clovis during the same period in which he called climate change “junk science” and embraced Obama birther conspiracy theories.

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.