Sam Clovis won’t become the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, but if he avoids prison time we’re sure he’ll find work somewhere. Why he’s not taking that plum USDA gig and why he was offered it in the first place, though, makes for an interesting story.
Clovis had previously worked at a fairly high level on President Donald Trump’s campaign, and given that he’s not a scientist and in fact has no scientific training at all that’s most likely the reason he was nominated to be the USDA’s chief scientist. Other Trump appointees have been confirmed with a similar lack of relevant credentials for the important jobs they were appointed to, and Clovis might well have survived the Senate’s scrutiny at a hearing that was scheduled for next week, but once again the “Russia thing” has complicated matters.
Earlier this week it was announced that former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous had pleaded guilty to lying to a special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” and has since been a “proactive cooperator” with the investigation. There’s some speculation that means he’s been wearing a microphone to record conversations with other targets of the investigation, but it’s known for sure that he’s also turned over some e-mails he sent to other campaign officials offering to use his contacts with the Russian government to acquire information to be used against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. One of the campaign officials he e-mailed was Clovis, and Papadopolous has also coughed up Clovis’s e-mailed replies encouraging an “off the record” meeting with the Russians and even a trip to Moscow “if it is feasible.”
There might be some perfectly reasonable explanation, and Clovis’s high-powered attorney explains it as the cordial response of “a polite gentleman from Iowa,” but he chose not to make his case to the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee. In his letter of withdrawal to the president Clovis wrote that “The political climate inside Washington has made impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assault on you and your teams seems a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.” Trump no doubt appreciated the sympathy, but his press secretary promptly announced that “We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination.”
The “Russia thing” had already led to Trump’s Attorney General recusing himself from the matter, the resignation of a national security advisor, the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and his another campaign and transition official on charges ranging from money-laundering to “conspiracy against the United States,” and now it forces the withdrawal of the nomination for a high-ranking post by yet another campaign official. Trump’s die-hard defenders can blame it all on the political climate in Washington and the left’s relentless assaults on Trump and his team, but to the rest of the country it doesn’t look good.
By now the most benign explanation for the “Russia thing,” and one that some die-hard defenders are already seizing on, is that from top to bottom the Trump campaign was entirely comprised of political neophytes who didn’t know any better than to have undisclosed contacts with Russians offering campaign dirt, so of course nothing came of it, but that also doesn’t look good. Back during the campaign Trump somehow made a selling point of his political inexperience, contrasting it with the hated “establishment” and its snooty know-it-alls, but he also promised he was going to hire the very best people to run the government, and its proving hard to keep that promise with a talent pool entirely comprised of political neophytes untainted by any previous government service.
Clovis holds a doctorate in public administration and once hosted a talk radio show and has a talk radio show’s host for making provocative statements, so we don’t doubt his intelligence nor his appeal to Trump, but the bill that created the position he was applying for states that appointees come “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” There’s nothing on Clovis’s resume that remotely fits that bill, which fits a disturbing pattern with Trump’s appointments.
After Trump was elected president a watchdog group called American Oversight started up to keep a keen eye on him, and they’ve been keeping an especially keen eye on his appointments. So far they’ve spotted an assistant secretary of energy whose last job before volunteering for the Trump campaign was managing a Meineke Car Care shop in New Jersey, a congressional relations employee for the Department of Housing and Urban Developments whose last job before the Trump campaign was “bartender/bar manager,” and confidential assistants — whatever that is — at the the USDA whose previous pre-Trump jobs were “cabana attendant” and trucker and scented-candle maker. Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican is Callista Gingrich, whose only apparent credentials are being Catholic and Newt Gingrich’s third wife, his ambassador to the Dominican Republics speaks little Spanish but does have a membership at Mar-a-Lago, and we’re sure American oversight will come up with more examples.
Many of Trump’s higher-profile picks have also had ill-fitting resumes for their jobs. He chose former Republican rival-turned-supporter and world-renowned brain surgeon Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ain’t brain surgery, but neither is it rocket science, so brain surgeons and rocket scientists aren’t the most likely candidates for the job. Fellow billionaire and staunch supporter Betsy DeVos was chosen as Secretary of Education, and although we quite like her ideas about school choice and color-blind school discipline and such she doesn’t have seem to have any experience running a large bureaucracy or educating small children. Trump’s Secretary of State had spent his entire career rising to the top spot at the Exxon Corporation, where his biggest foreign policy achievement was winning Russia’s “Friendship Medal” after negotiating a multi-billion dollar deal for Russian oil if sanctions are ever level, and although some of us now see him as a moderating force in the administration both the most die-hard supporters and hard-core critics of Trump want him gone.
Meanwhile, all sorts of positions go unfilled, either because of congressional or the fact that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone. Trump has defiantly told interviewers that he doesn’t intend to ever fill some of the expensive positions, his Secretary of State has also promised downsizing, but half the department’s appointed positions are being ignored and some of them seem pretty darned important. There are still nominees for ambassadors to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, or assistant secretaries for Near East and South and Central Asian affairs, where some experienced hands are clearly needed.
That promise to burn down the establishment and bring in the very best people to replace it is going prove very difficult to keep. Some jobs require relevant experience, and in a political climate where that taints you as an establishment know-it-all things are bound to go wrong.
— Bud Norman