Trump Pick For Top Agriculture Post Withdraws Name Following Russia Probe Revelations

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Sam Clovis, the Trump campaign’s national co-chairman, has withdrawn his name from consideration for a top post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture following revelations laid out in the government’s case against former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday.

Clovis, a former conservative radio host and professor from Iowa, was scheduled for a confirmation hearing next week for the position of under secretary of agriculture for research, education, and economics at USDA. (RELATED: How Did George Papadopoulos End Up On The Trump Campaign?)

Clovis’ nomination came under a cloud of scrutiny earlier this week with the revelation that Papadopoulos, a little-known energy consultant who joined the campaign in March 2016, accepted a plea deal with the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for lying to the FBI about contacts he had with Russians.

A statement of offense unsealed in the case shows that Papadopoulos attempted to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials. Papadopoulos also broached the idea of arranging a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Campaign emails released by Mueller also show that Papadopoulos was in frequent contact with a London-based professor who claimed to have ties to top Kremlin officials. Papadopoulos told FBI agents that the professor, Joseph Mifsud, told him in late-April 2016 that he had learned that the Russian government had obtained “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails.

It is still unclear whether Papadopoulos told members of the Trump campaign about the documents.

As the campaign’s top policy adviser, Clovis is responsible for inviting Papadopoulos onto the campaign. The pair met on March 6, 2016, to discuss Papadopoulos’ role, and Trump announced the 30-year-old volunteer on March 21.

According to Mueller’s statement of offense, Papadopoulos indicated to investigators that Clovis, who is referred to in the document as a “campaign supervisor,” told him in their March 6 meeting that a top policy focus for the campaign was to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. And in an Aug. 15, 2016 email exchange, Clovis said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos and another campaign adviser to attend an “off the record” meeting with Russian government officials.

Clovis, through his attorney, has insisted that he did nothing wrong in those exchanges. He has disputed Papadopoulos’ claim that improving U.S.-Russia relations was a top campaign priority. He also claims that he encouraged Papadopoulos’ trip just to be friendly.

Mueller’s statement notes that the off the record meeting never took place.

A request for comment from Clovis’ attorney, Victoria Toensing, was not immediately returned.

Multiple phone calls and emails to the USDA were also not returned.

Clovis reportedly met last week with Mueller’s team. He also reportedly appeared before a federal grand jury.

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