Trump Nominee Clovis Withdraws After Link to Russia Probe

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(Bloomberg) -- Sam Clovis, an early backer backer of President Donald Trump caught up in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has withdrawn his nomination to be a top official in the Agriculture Department, according to the White House.

Clovis, a former fighter pilot and conservative talk-radio host from Iowa, brought into the Trump campaign George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians. Court filings say Papadopoulos had meetings with Russians seeking to provide incriminating information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

Clovis was picked by Trump to be Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics and his nomination was already in trouble in the Senate because of some of his past writings and statements and questions about whether he was qualified for a job meant to be filled by a scientist. 

He drew further scrutiny after the release of court documents related to Papadopoulos’s guilty plea. His lawyer confirmed that Clovis was the unnamed “campaign supervisor” cited in the documents who received emails from Papadopoulos about attempts to arrange meetings between the campaign and Russian representatives.

Clovis, in a statement released earlier this week, said Papadopoulos was acting on his own and that the campaign had a strict rule against traveling abroad and claiming to speak on behalf of the campaign.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis said in a letter to Trump that was released by the White House. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day.”

Papadopoulos was one of five volunteer advisers on foreign policy identified by Trump in a March 2016 interview. Over the next several months, according to court documents, he cultivated at least three contacts who promised “dirt” on Clinton, Trump’s election rival, and introductions to top-level Russians. He kept some people in the campaign, including Clovis, apprised of his efforts by email.

The communications, by Skype, Facebook, text and email, show the electronic trail the government is following to verify how the campaign handled Russian contacts.

Clovis, who is already working for the Agriculture Department in an adviser job that doesn’t require Senate confirmation, suggested in his withdrawal letter that he would stay on in his current role. Clovis said in the letter to Trump that he “will continue to serve at the pleasure of you and the Secretary of Agriculture.”

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