President Donald Trump’s pick for top scientist at the Department of Agriculture has withdrawn his nomination, and not because he has zero science background, CNN reports.
“We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement to reporters Thursday.
Trump had picked Clovis to serve as the chief scientist at the USDA despite him having no science credentials. According to The Washington Post, Clovis admitted he had not even taken a single graduate level class in natural sciences.
Clovis’ background as a conservative radio host raised eyebrows in Congress as well. Clovis has a history of racially charged and homophobic statements.
Clovis in a letter to Trump claimed that, “The political climate inside 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,” he wrote. “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.”
But Clovis doesn’t appear to have pulled out because of his lack of qualifications or his history of concerning statements. Instead, sources told CNN that Clovis’ “nomination was imperiled over his connections to the ongoing Russia probe.”
Though Clovis isn’t explicitly named in the George Papadopoulos guilty plea, he has been identified as a top Trump official referred to in the former aide’s emails.
Clovis appears to have encouraged Papadopoulos to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“Make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote in response to Papadopoulos’ request to attend a meeting with Russian officials abroad.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she had “serious concerns” over Clovis’ role in the Russia scandal, as well as his long history of outrageous statements.
“From early on, I have strongly opposed the nomination of Sam Clovis to be the chief scientist at USDA,” she said in a statement. “The emerging information about his role in the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia raises serious concerns. As we consider his nomination, I will be looking into these facts, along with his questionable qualifications and long history of divisive and outrageous statements.”
Clovis’ past statements include a number of birther claims against President Obama, who he called a “Maoist.” He also referred to former Attorney General Eric Holder as a “racist black.”
Much of Clovis’ past includes fighting gay rights, which he claimed would lead to legal protections for pedophiles.
Clovis rose through the ranks of the Trump campaign by jumping on board early in the election cycle when the staff was in its infancy. He became a Trump favorite after he helped bring in a big caucus win in his home state of Iowa and thanks to his ardent defenses of Trump on cable news.