OMAHA (DTN) -- The White House confirmed Thursday that former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis withdrew his nomination for USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics in a letter to the president.
The White House has also issued the following comment on Clovis' decision: "We respect Mr. Clovis's decision to withdraw his nomination," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Clovis withdrew his name after his role in the Russia investigation became known earlier this week. Reports stated he had met with special counsel Robert Mueller's team and also had met with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the involvement of possible Russian influence in the Trump campaign.
Criticism also continued to come from the scientific community, which maintained Clovis was not qualified to take the position as USDA's chief scientist.
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In his letter to President Donald Trump, Clovis stated he was eternally grateful and humbled by the nomination, but the political climate made it impossible for him to receive "balanced and fair consideration" for the position.
"The relentless assaults on you and your team seems to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day," Clovis stated. "As I am focused on your success and the succession of this Administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence, particularly with so much work left to do for the American people."
Clovis thanked the president and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for supporting his nomination. He also credited Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and other Republican members of the Senate Ag Committee "for being in my corner."
Clovis, a senior White House adviser to USDA in the areas of research, education and economics, indicated he would maintain his current position by stating he "will continue to serve at the pleasure of you and the Secretary of Agriculture."
Court documents filed in the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI stated that Papadopoulos told the FBI about arranging a meeting in August 2016 with Russian officials. An unnamed campaign supervisor wrote, "I would encourage you to make the trip, if it is feasible." Clovis' attorney confirmed to the Washington Post that Clovis was that supervisor.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and a vocal opponent of Clovis' nomination, wrote him on Wednesday demanding answers. "Why did you encourage Mr. Papadopoulos 'to make the trip' to meet with these Russian officials?" she asked. "Did you have any other discussions or communications during the campaign with Trump campaign officials, affiliates, or staff regarding communications with Russian nationals or officials?"
Earlier in the campaign, Papadopoulos stated he had discussed with a Russian national, who Papadopoulos believed was Russian President Vladimir Putin's niece, about a meeting "Between us and Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump." After Papadopoulos emailed campaign officials about this offer, Papadopoulos' campaign supervisor was cited in the court documents as stating he would "work it through the campaign" and then complimented Papadopoulos on "great work."
In a statement Thursday, Stabenow called Clovis' decision to withdraw "a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research. From day one, it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers," Stabenow said. "His lack of qualifications and long history of politically divisive statements were disqualifying, and the recent news surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign has raised even more questions."
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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