Lack of any scientific qualifications couldn't keep former Trump campaign official Sam Clovis from becoming the US Department of Agriculture's new chief scientist. But emerging as a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation seems to have made him jump ship.
A former talk radio host and retired Air Force colonel, Clovis, 68, had served as a national co-chair of Trump's campaign team during the presidential election. On Monday, unsealed indictments in Mueller's investigation into the campaign's alleged collusion with Russian intelligence suggested that Clovis had encouraged another member of the campaign team, George Papadopoulos, to seek links with Russian officials during the campaign. Later reports suggested Clovis had become a cooperating witness in the investigation.
"The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position," Clovis, a senior White House adviser at the USDA, wrote to Trump in a letter on Wednesday withdrawing from consideration for the agency's chief scientist job. His confirmation hearing had been planned for Nov 9.
"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," Clovis said in his withdrawal letter.
Scientists had been complaining about Clovis for weeks after his nomination for a job that by law required "distinguished" scientific expertise and familiarity with agricultural research.
Clovis has a PhD in Public Administration. He had reportedly decried climate science as "junk," and said that legal protections for LBGT people would lead to "pedophilia." Scientific and environmental groups have been critical of his qualifications to oversee a $3 billion agricultural research budget at USDA, and cheered his withdrawal from nomination.
“This might be the one wise decision that Clovis has made in his political career, since he was grossly unqualified and unfit for the position of Chief Science Adviser to the Department of Agriculture," Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce said in a statement. "Only a scientist who will put science and American families before special interests and their dirty profits is right for the job.”
George Papadopoulos's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.