What Does the White House Know about Sam Clovis that Chuck Grassley Claims Not To?

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The other day I noted that Victoria Toensing’s press comments about her client, Sam Clovis’, appearance before the Mueller grand jury suggested there were discrepancies between his testimony and what George Papadopoulos has been telling the FBI for the last three months.

Nevertheless, after the disclosure that Clovis was the supervisor who told Papadopoulos to pursue a meeting with Russia as late as August 2016, Chuck Grassley still backed his fellow Iowan to serve as US Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics. Grassley (who on Monday hid in flags to avoid questions about the Manafort indictment) told Iowa journalists that he had seen the context of the emails and he believed they showed no evidence that Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials.

[I]n a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday, Grassley said he has reviewed emails provided by the Trump campaign that include a fuller account of Clovis’ interactions with Papadopoulos. According to those 80-some emails, Grassley said, Clovis does not appear to encourage any travel to meet with Russian officials.

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley told reporters.

The emails he reviewed cannot be released publicly, Grassley said, although some of them have been referenced in published newspaper accounts and are referred to in the court document from the Papadopoulos case.

When asked if he believes Clovis could face legal consequences over his role in the campaign, Grassley answered that it was “too early for me to say that.”

“But,” he went on, “reading these emails … that’s not an issue.”

Clovis has been scheduled to testify before Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 9 as part of his nomination as USDA undersecretary. That could be pushed back, Grassley said on Wednesday. In any case, Grassley said he will introduce Clovis when he comes before the committee.

Mind you, Grassley would have good reason to want an Iowan in a top USDA position, and might even relish the thought of having a non-scientist in charge of science there. So he may be biased.

In any case, the White House may now have a different understanding of matters.  CNN reports today that the White House may pull Clovis’ nomination entirely.

A White House source said the nomination of Sam Clovis is in danger and could be pulled soon. A source familiar with the White House’s thinking added that Clovis may have to withdraw, but it is not clear how that will happen, whether he will voluntarily pull out or be forced to do so.

[snip]
A Republican official close to Clovis said he remained loyal to Trump, adding that Clovis would almost certainly not fight the White House in backing away from his USDA nomination if asked.

“There’s no way he would fight this or cause trouble for the White House,” a Republican official and longtime associate of Clovis said.

Meanwhile, Clovis’ lawyer Toensing has gotten a whole lot less chatty about her client’s plight.

The White House did not comment Wednesday night, and messages to Clovis’ attorney were not returned.

Admittedly, it may be that the White House simply wants to avoid having to release the 80-some emails Grassley alluded to publicly, as Democrats would surely push to happen. Or it may be that there are details about Clovis’ actions — such as his description of cozying up to Russia as a key priority of the campaign — that the White House wants to avoid any questions about. Or, it may be that the White House simply doesn’t want to give Democrats any chances to focus attention on the substance of Papadopoulos’ plea.

Whatever it is, though, it does seem that Clovis’ immediate future seems to be less bright than Iowan Chuck Grassley claims it is.

Update: The AP reports that Clovis has withdrawn from consideration.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. Kathleen says:

    It’s possible Grassley opposes moving forward with the Clovis nomination but does not want to be the one to recant; feels the White House should do it.  In exchange for intimating that context exonerates Clovis, WH provides Grassley a fig leaf to avoid political trouble at home and spares him any public duties.

    A lot of people in Iowa must like this guy’s radio show.

  2. der says:

    Or Clovis has shown his attorney and the WH the emails from a second-third-fourth account that the Trump campaign was using for their moose and squirrel capers.

  3. harpie says:

    Sen. Leahey on Clovis, today:

    […] “His nomination was withdrawn because we learned on Monday that last year Mr. Clovis, while serving as the co-chairman for the national Trump campaign, gave the green light to George Papadopolous’ attempts to collude with Russian operatives and obtain stolen emails from the Clinton campaign.  Mr. Clovis’ nomination was only withdrawn because that would certainly have been a topic during his upcoming testimony, under oath, before the Senate Agriculture Committee.  I know because I was going ask him all about it to get more facts on the record and before the American people.

  4. prostratedragon says:

    Earlier today Amanda Marcotte added a good one to the long list of reasons not to want Clovis in that position:

    It’s worth noting that climate change could be opening up agricultural opportunities for Russian farmers that were previously limited by that nation’s wintry climate. For American farmers to remain competitive in the futures with northern countries like Russia and Canada, they need a USDA that backs them up with cutting-edge science and climate change adaptation strategies. Clovis is both incapable of doing that job and ideologically opposed to it.

    There is no business more important than bringing this administration to a Constitutional end.

  5. Rugger9 says:

    It’s a shame that Jabba Sam won’t join the DofAg because the confirmation hearings would have been comedy gold.  It will be interesting to see how SHS / McMaster spins this in the presser today.

    I was so touched by his pious complaint about the inability to get a fair and balanced hearing (he does realize that’s Faux News’ tagline, right?) as if those DFHs in the D side had spoiled the comity of the Senate.  Look in the mirror, Jabba Sam, you were front and center for a long time from your perch in Iowa in spewing the bile.

    I suspect by the time Mueller gets done with him (add conspiracy and/or misprision of a felony to the charges Papadopoulos copped to in his plea, since Jabba Sam directed his activities and travels) he’ll prefer dropping into the Sarlacc on Tatooine.

    I’m still waiting for Orly to join the legal never-were clown car.  It’s all we’re missing.  Thanks for playing, Victoria Toensing.

  6. Willis Warren says:

    “The Hutts originated on a forest planet called Varl, in a binary star system consisting of the two stars Evona and Ardos, which the Hutts worshiped as gods. According to Hutt legend, Evona was absorbed by a black hole, and Ardos collapsed on itself over grief for its mate. Since the Hutts survived the deaths of their gods, they believed they had become gods, hence their egocentrism.”

     

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