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Sam Clovis on Thursday withdrew his nomination to serve as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief scientist.

Clovis withdrew his nomination days after unsealed court documents revealed that his communications with other members of President Donald Trump’s campaign put him in proximity to the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter to Trump dated Wednesday, Clovis claimed, “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive a balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

Clovis said he did not want to “be a distraction or negative influence.”

“I worked hard during the campaign and take some pride in the accomplishment of having you elevated to the Presidency,” Clovis wrote.

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

Ironically, it was precisely the “hard” work Clovis claimed he did on Trump’s behalf during his 2016 campaign that put Clovis’ nomination in question to begin with.

Clovis served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on Trump’s campaign. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

According to court documents unsealed on Monday, Papadopoulos kept other members of Trump’s campaign updated on those communications. In several messages, Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting, and Clovis said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to set one up “off the record.”

NBC News reported Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Clovis, and that Clovis testified before the investigating grand jury in the Russia probe.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary” with regard to Clovis’ nomination.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday said that Clovis’ scheduled testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee, scheduled for next Thursday, could be pushed back. Grassley said it was “too early” to say whether he thought Clovis would face legal consequences, but said he is nevertheless still backing Clovis’ nomination.

CNN first reported on Thursday morning, citing an unnamed White House source, that Clovis’ nomination could be yanked.

Clovis, Trump’s pick to oversee the Department of Agriculture’s research section, is a non-scientist and open climate skeptic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in August cited Clovis’ “backwards” views in a statement calling on Trump to withdraw Clovis’ nomination.

“He is a proud ‘skeptic’ of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist,” the senators said.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing a letter from Clovis to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, that Clovis repeatedly responded to questions about what science credentials he has as “None.”

Clovis instead cited his teaching career (focused on homeland security, foreign policy and political science) and his experience running for office as proof that he is qualified to be the department’s top scientist.

This post has been updated.

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Being under federal investigation hasn’t stopped former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos from trying to advance his career.

Four months ago, shortly before he was arrested for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian nationals during the campaign, he asked his followers on LinkedIn for their “thoughts” on him pursuing a congressional run. In October, around the time he pleaded guilty to those allegations, he expressed interest “in meeting with prominent publisher” and queried his LinkedIn connections for recommendations. And just a week ago, before his case was unsealed, Papadopoulos put out a call for “speaker bureau recommendations.”

This might seem like a remarkable degree of hubris for someone facing felony charges. But it represents a pattern for the 30-year-old Chicago native, who leveraged an inflated resume and the chaos of the crowded 2016 Republican primary into advisory roles on two major presidential campaigns.

On LinkedIn, a platform designed for self-promotion, Papadopoulos’ penchant for self-inflation stands out, dating back to his years at DePaul University, where he graduated in 2009 with a degree in political science.

Dick Farkas, Papadopoulos’ former professor and a Russia expert at the university, remembered him as a “nondescript” and not “particularly noteworthy” student who displayed no “particular interest” in Russian affairs.

Noting that Papadopoulos describes himself as concentrating on “international political economy,” Farkas told TPM that the school offers political science students no option for a concentration or specific regional focus and called it a “classic case of George embellishing his credentials.”

The listed phone number was disconnected at the Lincoln Square residence where the Chicago Tribune reported Papadopoulos currently lives with his mother and brother. A message left for his father, Antonios Papadopoulos, at his nephrology office in the suburb of Addison was not returned.

After receiving a masters degree from the University College London in 2010, Papadopoulos settled in Washington, D.C., where he claims on his LinkedIn to have spent some four and a half years as a “research associate” at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. The institute told the Washington Post he was actually an unpaid intern who served as a contracted researcher to several fellows working on a book.

With just this thin resume and a few appearances at energy conferences abroad under his belt, Papadopoulos reached out to to Ben Carson’s campaign manager, Barry Bennett, through a LinkedIn message asking for a job, as Bennett recalled to the Post. Eager to beef up the campaign’s foreign policy team, Bennett told the Post he simply asked a friend at the Hudson Institute if Papadopoulos was an “okay guy” and brought him on board.

After a six-week stint with the Carson campaign, Papadopoulos was cut loose in January 2016 as part of what Bennett told the Post was an effort to reduce staffing costs.

How exactly Papadopoulos landed on Trump’s foreign policy team a few months later remains unclear. What’s known is that Sam Clovis, then the campaign co-chairman, was tasked with quickly pulling together a foreign policy advisory team, and that Papadopoulos’ name ended up on a list of five individuals that Trump announced were advising him on national security issues at a March 21 meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board.

Court documents say that Clovis told Papadopoulos on March 6, shortly before he officially joined the campaign, that improved U.S.-Russia relations were a “principal foreign policy focus.” The young volunteer adviser seemed to take this advice and run with it, leveraging his new campaign title to communications with individuals he “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials,” according to his statement of offense.

One was Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor of diplomacy, who Papadopoulos told senior Trump officials could connect the campaign with high-ranking officials in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Papadopoulos told the Trump team that another one of his connections was Vladimir Putin’s niece, though the FBI said the “Female Russian national” he met with actually had no relation to the Russian president.

Farkas, Papadopoulos’ former professor, told TPM he was skeptical his one-time student was actually making these kinds of high-level connections.

“I’ve traveled enough and I’ve studied enough about things Russian to know that he did not have the access he was claiming to,” he said.

In an interview this year, Papadopoulos told the Wall Street Journal he stayed on the campaign through the transition. His first interview with the FBI came on Jan. 27, just seven days after Trump was sworn in.

Though his recent LinkedIn queries suggest he’s continued to pursue a range of professional options while assisting the Mueller investigation, he currently appears to have no formal affiliation and is listed only as an independent “oil, gas and policy consultant.” In October, he tweeted a photograph of himself holding a briefcase on a London street with the hashtag #business.

The only current affiliation listed on his page is membership in the Cyprus-based International Presidential Business Advisory Council.

Contacted about this listing in August, the head of the organization, John Georgoulas, told TPM that “Papadopoulos is NOT a member of IPBAC, never was and we have never worked together.”

His claim to membership, Georgoulas added, was “weird and not true!”

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Among the Russia-linked Facebook and Instagram ads released Wednesday by the lawmakers probing Russia’s 2016 election meddling are a number of ads promoting rallies, marches and other physical events, suggesting that Russia sought to extend its influence beyond the confines of the internet.

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Muslims. Undocumented immigrants. Black Lives Matter activists.

These were among the groups targeted in the Facebook ads purchased by Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 election and released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee. Though the small number of ads made public make it difficult to confirm that the ads are a “representative sampling,” as Democrats on the committee claim, those released shore up reporting about Russia’s efforts to stoke American voters’ fears of their Muslim, black and Latino neighbors.

Four of the ads, from the page Stop All Invaders, disparaged Islam with messages about the need to “kick Sharia out of America” and the “security risk” posed by burqa-wearing women who could be terrorists in disguise.

Another pair of ads focused on undocumented Latino immigration.

“Border Patrol agents in South Texas arrested an illegal alien from Honduras that had previously been deported and convicted of Rape Second Degree,” read one ad from Heart of Texas written in garbled English.

“Thanks to Obama’s and Hillary’s policy, illegals come here because they wait for amnesty promised,” the ad, which appears to have been shared over 1,000 times, continued. Another sponsored image from what is billed as a “news & media website” called Secured Borders entices people to join their group with an image of a yellow road sign that reads, “No invaders allowed.”

There is also an anti-Black Lives Matter advertisement from a group called “Being Patriotic” which blames a “BLM movement activist” for “another gruesome attack on police.” While the text itself says that an East Boston man “critically injured” two officers, the image in the body reads “our hearts are with those 11 heroes,” suggesting the one ad may be splicing together information from separate incidents.

As TPM has previously reported, Black Lives Matter was a particular target in ads run by Russian troll farms during the election.

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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee posted Wednesday a selection of the Facebook ads purchased by Russia-linked accounts as the committee’s hearing on how Russia exploited social media during the 2016 election got under way.

The committee Dems posted screenshots of the ads, as well as some of the the meta data associated with the ads, such as the amount of impressions the ads made and to which demographics the ads were targeted. Examples of Russia-purchased ads on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, were among the ads released.

Some of the ads released Wednesday did not mention presidential candidates by name, but rather weighed in on political issues, be it pushing anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiments, or mimicking the Black Lives Matters or LGBT rights movements.

Other ads explicitly advocated for or against particular candidates. One Instagram ad from an account called “american.veterans” said “Killary Clinton will never understand what it feels like to lose the person you love for the sake of your country,” while others touted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). There were some anti-Donald Trump ads among the examples released Wednesday, including a Facebook post for a “Trump is NOT my President” event.

 

Additionally, House Intel Committee Dems released a list of Twitter handles associated with Russia-linked accounts.

Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google were on Capital Hill to testify on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Before appearing in front of the House Intel committee, the representatives from the social media companies testified in front of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

 

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Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch’s week did not improve on Wednesday.

Fresh off a hiding Tuesday from Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), Stretch appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) read the social media executive the riot act for what he called a refusal to take the problem of foreign interference in elections seriously.

“In meetings with your leadership as you became more aware of this problem, you aggressively promoted the fact that you took down 30,000 accounts around the French elections,” Warner told Stretch. “Now you say not all of those were Russian related. Have you gone back and cross checked those accounts you took down in France to see if they were active in the American election?”

Stretch tried to give a discursive answer, but Warner cut him off. “The accounts related to Russian accounts that you took down, your leadership bragged about how proactive you were in the French election process,” Warner said, “did you check those accounts to see if any of them were active in the American elections?” 

Stretch tried for a second non-answer, which appeared to anger Warner. Just please answer my question,” he said. “Have you reviewed the accounts you took down in France that were Russian related to see if they played any role in the American election?”

Stretch said he was “trying to answer the question.”

“The answer is yes or no,” snapped Warner. Facebook, he said, had looked at the 470 American accounts identified for payment in rubles. Had it applied the same techniques to the accounts seeking to interfere in the European elections “to see if those accounts were active in the United States?”

“I will have to come back to you on that, senator,” Stretch said.

Warner was irate. “Sir, we had this hearing scheduled for months,” he said. “I find your answer very disappointing. On the question of we just discovered you had 80,000 views in terms of Russian views on Facebook. We discover in the last 48 hours 120,000 Russian-based posts on Instagram. Have you done any similar analysis on those 120,000 posts? Know the 80,000 reached 126 million Americans. Have you done the same analysis on the 120,000 posts on Instagram?”

Stretch answered that Facebook had indeed analyzed those posts.

“How many Americans did those touch?” Warner asked.

Far more than Facebook had initially admitted, it turned out. “The data on Instagram is not as complete, but the data we have indicates that beginning in October of 2016, those Instagram posts reached an additional 16 million people in addition to the 126 million people that we identify,” Stretch said.

“Now we’re seeing the Russian activity is roughly at 150 million Americans without knowing how many times they were reshared,” Warner said.

Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer, quickly issued a comment, which also did not answer the question of whether the accounts run in Germany and France were active in the American election. Stamos did say that “[a]ll of the accounts disabled automatically [in the sweep of European disinfo accounts] are still included in our searches for organized disinformation actors like the Internet Research Agency.”

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Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch admitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that his company had taken down the account of Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, who lives in the US, on the strength of a report filed to the tech giant by the Chinese government.

Guo, a billionaire living in New York City who is a harsh critic of the Chinese government, published on Facebook “sometimes outlandish tales of deep corruption among family members of top Communist Party officials,” the New York Times wrote a month ago, as it reported that Guo’s account had been taken down.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked the pointed question: “[Guo’s] Facebook account was blocked, and Facebook has informed us that he violated terms of service. I think he published personal identifying information about individuals and that violated the terms of service. I understand that argument. My question, what I want to be clear is was there any pressure from the Chinese government to block his account?”

Stretch, initially, appeared to mislead Rubio in his answer: “No, senator, we reviewed a report on that account and analyzed it through regular channels using our regular procedures,” he said. “The blocking was not of the account in its entirety, but I believe was of specific posts that violated our policy.”

Rubio was dubious. “You can testify that you did not come under pressure from the Chinese government or any of its representatives or people working for them to block his account or to block whatever it is you blocked?” he asked.

Put in those terms, Stretch could not, in fact, pull off a denial. “I want to make sure I’m being precise and clear,” he said. “We did receive a report from representatives of the Chinese government about the account. We analyzed that report as we would any other and took action solely based on our policies.”

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In a new filing Tuesday, special counsel Robert Mueller argued that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign aides indicted recently, are a flight risk given the serious nature of the charges, the wealth of the two men, and their extensive travel history.

“As explained below and at the initial appearance in this matter on October 30, 2017, the defendants pose a risk of flight based on the serious nature of the charges, their history of deceptive and misleading conduct, the potentially significant sentences the defendants face, the strong evidence of their guilt, their significant financial resources, and their foreign connections,” the court filing reads.

The document also reveals what federal investigators know about the assets held by Manafort and Gates. Manafort has given various estimates of his wealth between 2012 and 2017, between $19 million and $136 million, with the number fluctuating several times between 2016 and 2017. Most recently, Gates listed his personal liquid assets at $25 million in February 2016 and at $2.2 million in March 2016.

Mueller noted that both have traveled abroad extensively and revealed that Manafort currently has three U.S. passports with different numbers. Manafort has applied for a passport ten times in the last ten years, per the court filing.

Both Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty on Monday to all 12 counts handed down in the indictment alleging a money-laundering scheme. Both have been placed in home confinement with bond set at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates.

Correction: This post originally referred to the bail filing as unsealed on Tuesday. Mueller filed it Tuesday, but it was never sealed.

Read the court filing:

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To those who were anticipating the indictment against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort that became public Monday, the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea from another Trump campaign aide a little more than an hour later was a major shock.

But Special Counsel Robert Mueller wasn’t just giving close observers of the case a bonus surprise on a day being touted on Twitter as #MuellerMonday. Mueller was sending a message — multiple messages in fact — former federal prosecutors tell TPM and the unsealed court filings themselves suggest.

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