WASHINGTON — Sam Clovis, the nominee for the Agriculture Department’s top scientific post, has withdrawn from consideration after being identified as one of the Trump campaign officials with whom former campaign aide George Papadopoulos communicated about his Russian contacts.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Court documents unsealed Monday that spelled out a guilty plea deal Papadopoulos struck with special counsel Robert S. Mueller on Oct. 5 cite emails from the foreign policy adviser to candidate Trump to more-senior campaign officials pressing them to meet with his Russian contacts, who claimed connections to the Kremlin and promised “dirt” on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In his letter to Trump withdrawing his nomination, Clovis took some shots at Washington, complaining about criticism of him and the president.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis wrote. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day. As I am focused on your success and the success of this administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence, particularly with so much important work left to do for the American people.”

As recently as Monday, the White House was standing by Clovis.

When asked if the president was still comfortable with Clovis taking on the USDA role, Sanders told reporters she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary.”

In one such exchange, from May 2016, Papadopoulos emailed campaign officials that his Russian contacts wanted to meet with the candidate. Higher-ups did not rule out meetings with Russian officials, according to the court documents.

“Lets discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” the senior campaign official replied, referring to Trump. “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

According to multiple reports, Clovis was the supervisor of Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia-connected individuals.

Even before the Papadopoulos revelations, Senate Democrats had called for Clovis to withdraw his nomination because of his rejection of climate science and his “extremist views” on race and homosexuality.

—CQ-Roll Call


Ahead of Asia trip, White House gives North Korea a reprieve

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is pumping the brakes on new steps — military or otherwise — against North Korea for “a few months” as recent sanctions are implemented, Donald Trump’s top national security said one day ahead of the president heading to the region.

Air Force One will be wheels up on Friday for an 11-day diplomatic trip that will take Trump to a handful of Asian countries, including South Korea, Japan and China. Each is a key player in the standoff with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over his atomic arsenal.

“The president recognizes that we’re running out of time” to strip Kim of his nuclear arms, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Thursday.

“We’re out of time because approaches in the past have not delivered,” McMaster said.

Trump is slated to deliver a major policy speech at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Vietnam, and will “call on all nations to do more” to help solve the North Korea problem, he added. One is China, North Korea’s leading trade partner and lone remaining close ally.

“China is definitely doing more” to pressure North Korea, McMaster said six days before Trump will land in Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “But it’s not enough until we achieve denuclearization.”

The president and his top aides often rattle the U.S. saber when it comes to North Korea, but sometimes describe any coming offensive action as at least months down the road. McMaster did just that just hours before Trump heads to the region.

He described recent new sanctions that were slapped on the North as the “end of the beginning” of Trump’s North Korea strategy. “We have to be a little patient, I think, for a few months to see what we can do, including China,” he said, referring to recent U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang.

The administration intends to “give it a few months and see what adjustments we might need to make,” he said.

But he also sent Kim a hawkish message on the eve of Trump’s first trip to the region as U.S. commander in chief.

“It’s time for a really concerted effort to do everything we all can to stop this short of military action,” the Army three-star general told reporters. “The president doesn’t draw red lines. … What is clear is the United States will respond with all capabilities available to respond to North Korean aggression.”

—CQ-Roll Call


Spanish prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Puigdemont, ex-deputies

MADRID — The Spanish public prosecutor on Thursday requested that an arrest warrant be issued for ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four members of his former government, who are currently in Belgium.

All five had been summoned to a hearing at Madrid’s National Court, facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds.

According to Spanish media reports, a judge is preparing the European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and the other four ex-members of his government.

If Judge Carmen Lamela issues the arrest warrant, Puigdemont could be immediately detained by Belgian authorities and subsequently face extradition.

The Spanish court has already ordered pretrial detention without bail for eight other former members of the regional government, who did testify in court, including former vice president of the Catalan regional government Oriol Junqueras.

A ninth former member of the regional government, Santi Vila, was given bail of 50,000 euros ($58,300).

Extradition of the former government members from Belgium would likely take up to 60 days, and would potentially cast a shadow over Catalonia’s regional election campaign, with a fresh vote scheduled for Dec. 21.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer said on Wednesday that he would not return to Spain to testify in the hearings, and had proposed that Puigdemont instead be questioned in Belgium.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the self-proclaimed “legitimate government of Catalonia” said that Puigdemont and his four former cabinet members would remain in Belgium during the trial in order to denounce “a political trial carried out according to the Spanish government’s directive.”

In addition to Puigdemont, the former Catalan officials still in Belgium are Antoni Comin (minister of health), Meritxell Serret (agriculture), Clara Ponsati (education) and Lluis Puig (justice).



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