WASHINGTON — Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign official who is now linked to special counsel Robert Mueller's federal probe into Russia's interference in the presidential election, is withdrawing his nomination to be the Agriculture Department's chief scientist.
“We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday.
Clovis's decision comes just days after court filings indicate that he may have encouraged President Trump's campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to set up meetings with Russians for the Trump campaign.
Court document show that an unnammed campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos. The Washington Post reported that the unnamed campaign supervisor was Clovis, who was Trump's national campaign co-chairman.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI officials about his contacts with Russians he believed had links to the Kremlin during the campaign, one of the first prosecutions in Mueller's investigation.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Clovis penned a letter to President Trump saying he does “not want to be a distraction or a negative influence" amid “relentless assaults on you and your team."
After the court filings were unsealed on Monday, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said she had "serious concerns" about Clovis's nomination. On Thursday, she called his withdrawal a "victory for science."
"From day one, it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers," she said in a statement. "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."
Joining Stabenow in her praise of the withdrawal was fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who has long served on the Agriculture Committee.
"Sam Clovis was almost a comically bad nominee, even for his administration," he said Thursday in a statement. "He is inarguably unqualified, and he is wrong on almost every major issue relevant to the chief scientist post to which he was nominated."
Also on Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Clovis confirmed in an Oct. 17 letter to Stabenow that he had no academic credentials in either science of agriculture.
The position for which Clovis was nominated – the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for research, education and economics — is usually chosen from distinguished scientists with special training or experience in agricultural research, education and economics, The Post reported.