Trump nominee Sam Clovis withdraws after Russia probe link

Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump's pick for the Agriculture Department's top scientist, has withdrawn after he was tied to the ongoing Russia probe. Clovis was a former Trump campaign official and chief policy adviser.

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."

Read moreWhat Robert Mueller's indictments of former Trump campaign officials mean for the president

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.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

2013: Mr. Trump goes to Russia

June 18, 2013. Donald Trump tweeted: "The Miss Universe Pageant will be broadcast live from MOSCOW, RUSSIA on November 9. A big deal that will bring our countries together!" He later added: "Do you think Putin will be going - if so, will he become my new best friend?" October 17, 2013 Trump tells chat show host David Letterman he has conducted "a lot of business with the Russians."

A timeline of the Russia investigation

September 2015: Hacking allegations raised

An FBI agent tells a tech-support contractor at the Democratic National Committee it may have been hacked. On May 18, 2016, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, says there were "some indications" of cyberattacks aimed at the presidential campaigns. On June 14, 2016 the DNC announces it had been the victim of an attack by Russian hackers.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

July 20, 2016: Kislyak enters the picture

Senator Jeff Sessions — an early Trump endorser who led his national security advisory committee — meets Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a group of other ambassadors at a Republican National Convention event.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

July 22, 2016: Assange thickens the plot

Julian Assange's WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 emails stolen from the DNC, appearing to show a preference for Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

July 25, 2016: Cometh the hour, Comey the man

The FBI announces it is investigating the DNC hack saying "a compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously."

A timeline of the Russia investigation

November 8, 2016: Trump elected

Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. On November 9, the Russian parliament burst into applause at the news.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

November 10, 2016: Team Trump denies Russia link

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov says there "were contacts" between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the election campaign. The Trump campaign issues a firm denial.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

November 18, 2016: Flynn appointed

Trump names General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. The former Defense Intelligence Agency chief was a top foreign policy adviser in Trump's campaign. Flynn resigned in February after failing to disclose full details of his communication with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

January 26, 2017: Yates - 'The center cannot hold'

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn made false statements regarding his calls with Kislyak. On January 30, Trump fires Yates for refusing to enforce his travel ban, which was later blocked by federal courts.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself

Trump says he has "total confidence" in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions announces he will recuse himself from any investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

March 20, 2017: FBI examines Trump-Kremlin links

FBI Director James Comey confirms before the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the FBI was investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

May 9, 2017: Trump sacks Comey

In a letter announcing the termination, Trump writes: "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."

A timeline of the Russia investigation

May 17, 2017: Mueller appointed special counsel

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller to look into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

August 2017: FBI seizes documents from Manafort

Shortly after Mueller convenes a grand jury for the investigation, the FBI seizes documents from one of Paul Manafort's properties as part of a raid for Mueller's probe. The former Trump campaigner manager stepped down in August 2016 after allegations surfaced that he had received large payments linked to Ukraine's former pro-Russian government.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

September 2017: Trump Jr.'s talks to Senate committee

Donald Trump Jr. tells the Senate Judiciary Committee he has not colluded with a foreign government. The closed-door interview relates to his June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which was also attended by his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump Jr.’s emails, however, suggest the meeting was supposed to produce dirt on Clinton.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

October 2017: Internet giants allege Russian interference

Facebook, Twitter and Google reportedly tell US media they have evidence that Russian operatives exploited platforms to spread disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election. The three companies are appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee in November 2017.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

July 2018: Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki for their first-ever summit. During the trip, Trump publically contradicts the findings of US intelligence agencies who concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

November 8, 2018: Sessions resigns as attorney general

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns from his post, under reported pressure from Trump. The president then appoints a critic of the Mueller probe as his successor, but later nominates William Barr to be the next attorney general in December 2018.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

November 29, 2018: Former Trump lawyer pleads guilty

Trump's former long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleads guilty to lying to Congress about discussions in 2016 on plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The FBI raided his home earlier that year in April. He would later be sentenced to three years in prison. In 2019, he tells Congress that Trump is a "racist" and a "con man."

A timeline of the Russia investigation

January 2019: Trump associate Roger Stone arrested

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate and Republican operative, is arrested at his home in Florida for lying to Congress about having advance knowledge of plans by WikiLeaks to release emails from the Democratic Party that US officials say were stolen by Russia.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

March 13, 2019: Manafort sentenced to prison

Manafort is found guilty of conspiracy charges and handed an additional sentence, bringing his total prison sentence to 7.5 years. In August 2018, a court in Virginia found him guilty of eight charges, including tax and bank fraud. He also pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller ends Russia probe

Special counsel Robert Mueller submits a confidential 448-page report on the findings of his investigation to the US Justice Department. The main conclusions of the report are made public when they are given to Congress. A redacted version of the report is released to the public on April 18, though Democrats call for the full report to be released.

A timeline of the Russia investigation

March 24, 2019: Trump declares 'exoneration'

The final report concluded that no one involved in Trump's 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia. Attorney General William Barr said the report provided no evidence that Trump obstructed justice, but stopped short of fully exonerating the president. Reacting to the findings, Trump described the probe as an "illegal take-down that failed," and said there was "complete and total exoneration."

A timeline of the Russia investigation

May 1, 2019: Barr testifies

In late March, Mueller writes a letter expressing concerns over the way Barr portrayed his report. The attorney general says the special counsel's letter was "a bit snitty" while testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Barr then cancels a subsequent appearance before the House Judicial Committee, citing "unprecedented and unnecessary" hearing conditions.

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."

Related Subjects

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.

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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.

rs/rt  (AP, dpa, Reuters)