Sammy, we hardly know ye

One of the more intriguing sidelights of the special prosecutor’s first arrests in the Russian influence investigation was our introduction to Sam Clovis, the guy our other new acquaintance, George Papadopoulos, reported to.

What Trump foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos reported, of course, concerned his dealings with Russian officials to get dirt they allegedly had on Hillary Clinton.  

When asked about these activities by the special prosecutor, he lied, got arrested, pleaded guilty and has been talking to the investigators ever since.  He may have also been wearing a wire in chats with various Trumpites. 


Listed as co-chair of the Trump campaign, Clovis turned up in the special prosecutor’s report as the superior who encouraged Papadopoulos to visit Russia and get the dirt, then praised his man for doing a “great job.”  Clovis’ lawyer later explained he didn’t really favor the Russian research and was only praising his subordinate as any “Iowa gentleman” would.

The Iowa gentleman spent 25 years as an Air Force officer, then became a radio talk show host and a professor of business administration at a small Iowa college.  He also ran less successful campaigns for other Republican presidential hopefuls.

This somehow qualified Clovis for appointment as the chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. The law requires this position to be found “among distinguished scientists with specialized training in agricultural research, education and economics.”

If the special prosecutor hadn’t spoiled things, Clovis would be appearing this very day, Nov. 9, before the Senate Agriculture Committee to explain how he came to be “among the distinguished scientists with specialized training” who are legally qualified for this job.

To prepare for today’s hearing Sen. Debby Stabenow, the ranking member of the committee, had sent Clovis a questionnaire, which asked him to list the graduate science courses he had taken and the awards, designations or academic recognition he had received in agricultural science.  Clovis’ replies were succinct:


Asked to explain what practical experience had in agricultural science, he cited his 17-years teaching business administration and public policy.  He also mentioned his run for state treasurer and U.S. senator in Iowa, where “one cannot be a credible candidate without significant agricultural experience and knowledge.”  He lost both races.

Some cranky senators may have been interested in Clovis’ more colorful comments as a radio talker on such topics as climate change, race, women, the LGBT community.  He would have been asked to explain his observation that President Obama was not born here and had avoided impeachment only because he is black or his description of homosexuality as a choice or the danger of same sex marriage legislation leading to legalizing pedophilia.  Then, of course, and more to the point, his consistent denial of climate change.

We won’t be hearing about any of this today because Clovis withdrew last week after the revelations about his role in the dirt digging—the closest he apparently ever came to agricultural activity.

We are making something of the incident because of Trump’s calls for “extreme vetting” of immigrants to combat ISIS infiltrators after a terrorist killed eight on a Manhattan bike path last week.  

Now, the usually supportive Wall Street Journal editorial board, while favoring careful vetting—defined as performing a background check before offering a job or admission to the nation—said it was “unfortunate and counterproductive that President Trump’s first instinct has been to politicize the tragedy by blaming—what else—immigration.”

That’s certainly true, because the killer wasn’t a newly admitted immigrant and because vetting of immigrant applicants, by all accounts, is quite efficient.

But we would suggest that vetting isn’t all it might be in the Trump administration.  The eminent scientist Sam Clovis would be Exhibit A if there weren’t so many other contenders, like George Papadopoulos, to make a random pick.

Introduced a year ago to the Washington Post editorial board as a member of his national security team and an “excellent guy” by candidate Trump, Papadopoulos’ qualifications consisted in their entirety as volunteer work for candidate Ben Carson, a stint as a researcher at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank and participation in the Model United Nations.

The Model UN is a fine education program in which elementary and high school students and college students play act as delegates to the UN from various countries.

But Papadopoulos made the Trump national security team and was only turned into a “liar and low level volunteer” by Trump after he was caught.

Extreme vetting should start at home.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.