URBANDALE — Sam Clovis says he harbors no ill will after his nomination to a federal agriculture department job was withdrawn amid news reports that his name surfaced in the special counsel investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I’m not bitter about that. I’m not resentful,” Clovis said Wednesday morning while speaking to Westside Conservatives Club, a suburban Des Moines group.
The public remarks are believed to be Clovis’ first in Iowa since the dust-up over his nomination late last year.
Clovis, a prominent member of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was nominated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientist job.
Just as Senate Republicans were preparing to hold a hearing on Clovis’ nomination, his name surfaced in the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. That investigation revealed that Clovis, a former conservative radio host, economics professor and U.S. Senate candidate from northwest Iowa, had communicated with George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has since pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his attempts to connect the campaign with Russian officials in 2016. As part of the investigation, Clovis testified before a grand jury.
On Nov. 2, shortly after the news of his involvement broke, Clovis withdrew his name from consideration for the chief scientist post.
Clovis said Wednesday he feels partisan politics caused the incident, but that he holds no ill feelings over it. He has continued to work as a policy adviser at the USDA, a job that does not require Senate confirmation.
“I think there were a lot of people that felt a lot worse about that than I did. I know what’s going on and the politics there. I thought it might be a long shot,” Clovis told reporters after his remarks to the conservative group. “When I found out I probably wasn’t going to get a floor vote, I said, ‘That’s it. I’m fine. I’ve got a job to do and I’ll go back and do it.’ And I have been ...
“I think it was more about the president than it was about me. Because I was a very visible, very strong advocate for the president. And I think a lot of people took exception to that. So it was a chance to put a barb in him. I just happened to be the guy.”
Democrats and some scientific and agricultural groups had also raised concerns with Clovis’ nomination, citing his lack of scientific credentials. Clovis has an advanced degree in economics, but does not have agricultural science education or experience.
“Sam Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination as chief scientist is a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate ag committee, said at the time. “From Day 1 it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers. 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.”
During Wednesday's event, Clovis also discussed the impact a budding trade war between the U.S. and China has on Iowa agriculture.
The Trump administration has imposed $50 billion in new trade taxes and proposed $150 billion more. China has responded by adding a tariff on pork, one of Iowa’s top livestock, and proposed tariffs on soybeans, one of Iowa’s top crops.
Iowa farmers say they are already feeling the financial pinch of that.
Clovis said he understands the concern, but asked for patience and expressed his confidence that Trump and senior administration officials ultimately will negotiate a trade deal that is better for Iowa farmers.
“I think people need to be calm. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But I think they also need to be patient because (Trump) is not going to sell the country down the river,” Clovis told the conservative group. “I have confidence in the president ... These people will get us through this, and we’re going to be better off coming out of it. I just know we will. Agriculture will make it. We’re going to make it.”
Trump has instructed federal ag secretary Sonny Perdue to develop a plan to protect farmers from any financial harm as a result of trade imbalance or negotiations. Clovis said he could not discuss specific plans, but said a potential example would be how the federal government provides funding for natural disaster relief. He noted such funding also would require Congressional approval.