The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s senior White House adviser, Sam Clovis, who withdrew his nomination to become the agency’s chief scientist this week after being linked to a special counsel’s ongoing Russia investigation, confirmed in an Oct. 17 letter obtained by The Washington Post that he has no academic credentials in science or agriculture.
But the former Iowa talk radio host and political science professor contended in the letter to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), that his time teaching and running for political office in the Hawkeye State steeped him in the field of agriculture.
Clovis informed Trump on Wednesday that he would no longer seek the post, given the controversy surrounding the fact that he was one of the top officials on the Trump campaign who was aware of efforts by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a relationship between the campaign and Russian officials.
In a letter to Trump, Clovis said he did not think he could get a fair consideration from the Senate, which was slated to hold a hearing on his appointment on Nov. 9.
“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” wrote Clovis, who serves as USDA’s senior White House adviser. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.”
Clovis said he would stay on at USDA, writing, “I will remain a devoted and loyal supporter and will continue to serve at the pleasure of you and the Secretary of Agriculture.”
The post to which Trump had nominated his campaign co-chairman — USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics — has traditionally been held by people with advanced degrees in science or medicine. The 2008 farm bill specifies that appointees to the position should be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics,” given that the official is “responsible for the coordination of the research, education, and extension activities of the Department.”
Clovis, who possesses a bachelor’s degree in political science, an MBA and a doctorate in public administration, repeatedly acknowledged his lack of background in the hard sciences when responding to Stabenow.
“Please list all graduate-level courses you have taken in natural science,” the second of 10 questions requested.
“None,” Clovis replied.
“Please list all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations,” the third question read.
“None,” Clovis replied.
“Please describe any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science,” the fourth question read.
“None,” Clovis replied.
Then came the fifth question, which asked, “What specialized training or significant experience, including certifications, do you have in agricultural research?”
He answered: “I bring 17 years of agriculture experience integrated into both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses throughout my teaching career as reflected in my curriculum vitae as well as the Committee’s questionnaire.” And having twice run for statewide office, he added that “one cannot be a credible candidate in that state without significant agricultural experience and knowledge.”
Clovis, who has said the consensus scientific view that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have driven recent climate change is “not proven,” has published and taught extensively about homeland security and foreign policy. He lists 17 examples of publications and scholarly activity on those two topics since 1992 on his CV, along with six teaching stints that cover those issues along with business administration.
None of those scholarly activities mentions the word “agriculture,” though he identifies “economic impact on agriculture of environmental and conservation public policy programs” among his research interests. He also lists agriculture and rural public policy as a topic on the conservative radio show he hosted from 2010 to 2013 and as one of his areas of interest as Trump’s campaign co-chairman.
The USDA press office did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests for comment about the nominee’s agricultural experience.
Asked about the letter, Stabenow said in a statement that Clovis’s answers show why the Senate should not confirm him as USDA’s chief scientist.
“It’s clear from his own words that Sam Clovis does not meet the basic qualifications required for the job,” she said. “This fact alone should disqualify him, not to mention his long history of politically charged comments and the recent questions surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign.”