US President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) chief scientist withdrew from consideration for the post on Thursday after media reports linked him to an ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.
Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign co-chairman and chief policy adviser, wrote in a letter to the president that he does “not want to be a distraction or a negative influence.”
In his letter, Clovis said that the political climate in Washington “has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position.”
Clovis came under fire this week after it was revealed that he encouraged a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser to reach out to the Russians.
The foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the campaign, court documents showed on Monday.
US media later identified Clovis as Papadopoulos’ supervisor who encouraged efforts to set up meetings with the Russians.
The White House said it respected Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination.
Questions over qualifications
Republicans had been preparing to hold a hearing on Clovis’ nomination next week, but concerns had already been raised over his lack of qualifications for the post as chief scientist.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which helped organize a letter signed by over 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.”
Prior to joining the Trump campaign, Clovis was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
He is also a self-described skeptic of climate change.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is probing allegations from US intelligence agencies and others that Russia interfered in the run-up to the US Presidential election in 2016 to undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump.
The investigation will also seek to determine whether or not there was any coordination between associates of the Trump campaign and Russians.
Former Trump campaign advisors Paul Manafort and Richard Gates were ordered to remain under house arrest by a US judge on Thursday, after they were charged earlier this week with conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to launder money.