SIOUX CITY — Sam Clovis, a Northwest Iowan who has been questioned in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged meddling by Russia in the 2016 campaign, on Thursday withdrew his nomination to a Department of Agriculture post.
Clovis wrote a letter to President Donald Trump, saying he wanted the president to withdraw his nomination to become the chief scientist in the Agriculture Department.
"The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The reckless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity every day," Clovis wrote.
A CNN report earlier Thursday said the Clovis nomination was imperiled due to his connection to the Russia probe.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the leading Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, on Wednesday wrote Clovis with more questions regarding his actions in 2016, when he was a co-chairman of the Trump presidential campaign.
Stabenow said the questions need answers, after information surfaced this week from criminal filings that were reported against former campaign officials for Trump, who is a Republican.
"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," Stabenow said in a release that also included her questions for Clovis.
Clovis, who now is a White House aide to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified last week before a grand jury seated in Washington, D.C., NBC News first reported Wednesday.
Clovis, a former Morningside College professor and Sioux City radio talk show host, was propelled into the middle of Mueller's high-stakes probe on Monday with the unsealing of court documents related a guilty pleading by George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos, who was secretly arrested in July for lying to the FBI and pleaded guilty last month to those charges, is cooperating with Mueller's investigation, according to the documents.
As national campaign co-chair and senior policy adviser of the Trump campaign, Clovis was asked to form a national security advisory committee. The members included Papadopoulos, who was not approached by the campaign for consultation, other than one meeting he attended in March 2016, Victoria Toensing, the attorney for Clovis, said in a statement to the Journal.
In his plea filing, Papadopolous admitted he told Trump and other top campaign national security officials during the March 31 meeting that he had contact with intermediaries for Russia who said they could set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Papadopoulos continued to email campaign officials about a possible meeting with individuals claiming to work for the Russian government who were offering "dirt" in the form of emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In an August 2016 email, among the court documents uncovered Monday, Clovis urged Papadopoulos to "make the trip, if it is feasible."
To Clovis' knowledge, Toensing said in the statement, all of Papadopoulos' communications with the campaign were "self-generated." Clovis never told Papadopoulos that "a principal foreign policy focus of the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia," because that was not Clovis' view of Trump's foreign policies priorities, Toensing said.
For weeks, Democrats had urged Trump to withdraw the nomination of Clovis, contending his background as an economics professor at Morningside College in Sioux City does not fit for the agriculture post.
Also in his letter, Clovis, a military veteran, said, "I have served this nation for 50 years with dignity, honor and integrity and will continue to do so." He added that "it saddens me" that the nomination would not go through to fruition.