Ex-Trump campaign official withdraws nomination for ag post

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Trump campaign official linked to the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller has withdrawn his nomination as the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist.

Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign national co-chairman and chief policy adviser, wrote in a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump that he does “not want to be a distraction or a negative influence.”

Questions had been raised about Clovis’ qualifications for the administration post. He is a self-described skeptic of climate change.

Republicans were preparing to hold a hearing on his nomination next week. But it was revealed this week that Clovis had communications with George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries last year.

“There were some questions that our distinguished ranking member had for him that I think under the circumstances — and given the votes — his decision was a good one,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

The panel’s top Democrat, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said Clovis’ decision to back out was “the right thing to do,” adding he “maybe, barely” had the votes to win confirmation.

In his letter, Clovis said the political climate in Washington “has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

“The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day,” Clovis wrote to Trump. “As I am focused on your success and the success of this administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence, particularly with so much important work left to do for the American people.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination.”

Stabenow said Clovis’ withdrawal was a “victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research.” Stabenow said Clovis’ “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.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which helped organize a letter signed by more than 3,000 scientists opposing Clovis’ nomination, said he had “failed to meet the most basic legal qualifications to serve as the chief scientist at the USDA.”