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Trump nominee Sam Clovis withdraws consideration for USDA post amid Russia probe

A controversial former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has withdrawn his name from consideration for a top post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the wake of reports that connected him to an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

>> Read more trending news

In a letter dated Wednesday and obtained by Politico, Sam Clovis said that he was "eternally grateful and humbled" by the president's nomination. However, he said he felt it best to withdraw his name from consideration for the USDA chief scientist post to keep from becoming a "distraction or negative influence" on the Trump administration.

"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."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Des Moines Register that officials respect his decision to withdraw.

>> Related: Mueller investigation: Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous pleads guilty

Trump nominated Clovis in September to serve as undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics for the USDA. He has since come under criticism for his lack of science credentials.

Clovis currently serves as the USDA’s senior White House adviser.

The undersecretary position has historically been filled by people with advanced degrees in science or medicine, The Washington Post reported. Clovis, a former Iowa talk radio host and political science professor, has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in public administration, according to the Post.

In a letter obtained by the Post and published Thursday, Clovis confirmed that he did not have any academic credentials in science.

>> Related: Mueller investigation: Paul Manafort, 2 other former Trump campaign staffers charged

Clovis has faced greater scrutiny in recent days, after federal authorities revealed that former Trump president campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to officials investigating Russian meddling in last year’s election and its possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Papadopoulos told investigators that he understood that one of the Trump campaign's main foreign policy goals was to improve relations between Washington and Moscow. To that end, he tried several times to set up meetings between Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

He failed to disclose his attempts to authorities, despite inquiries from the FBI. He pleaded guilty to lying to authorities on Oct. 5 and has since been cooperating with investigators, according to officials.

Court documents showed an unnamed “campaign supervisor” was in communication with Papadopoulos about his attempts to arrange a meeting between campaign and Russian officials. Clovis’s lawyer confirmed to Bloomberg News that an unnamed “campaign supervisor” mentioned in the documents, who was in communication with Papadopoulos about his attempts to arrange a meeting between campaign officials and Russian representatives, is Clovis.

In a statement released earlier this week, Clovis said Papadopoulos “was acting on his own and that the campaign had a strict rule against traveling abroad and claiming to speak on behalf of the campaign,” Bloomberg News reported.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Papadopoulos was a volunteer who had little connection to Trump. In March 2016, Trump called Papadopoulos an "excellent guy" during an interview with The Washington Post's editorial board.

"He was going through the list of names ... (and being) complimentary to the people who were volunteering on behalf of the campaign," Huckabee Sanders said.

Senate Agricultural Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, told Politico that Clovis has been "a fully cooperative witness" in the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian meddling.

An unidentified source told NBC News that Clovis was questioned last week by investigators connected to the FBI probe.

John Kelly: Civil War caused by 'lack of ability to compromise'

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly drew criticism Monday after he suggested that the Civil War happened because of “the lack of the ability to compromise” while discussing the historical significance of Confederate memorials.

>> Read more trending news

Kelly made the comments during an interview that aired Monday night on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle.” Kelly was asked about a Virginia church that decided to move plaques that honored George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the wake of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, The Washington Post reported.

Kelly called Lee “an honorable man” who “gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country.”

“Now it’s different today,” Kelly told host Laura Ingraham. “But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

>> Related: Trump again blames ‘both sides’ for violence in Charlottesville

He added that it’s “very, very dangerous” for people to view historical events through the lens of modern morality.

“History’s history,” Kelly said. “I think we make a mistake … as a society, and certainly as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, ‘What Christopher Columbus did was wrong.’”

His comments drew swift rebuke on social media from critics who argued that multiple attempts were made to “compromise” before the war broke out.

>> Related: Father of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer says he forgives James Fields

“Notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromises is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America’s founding,” African-American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in a series of tweets slamming Kelly. 

“I mean, like, it’s called The three fifths compromise for a reason. But it doesn’t stand alone. Missouri Compromise. Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln's own platform was a compromise. Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He proposed to limit slavery's expansion, not end it. During the Civil War, Lincoln repeatedly sought to compromise by paying reparations--to slaveholders--and shipping blacks out the country.”

The debate over Confederate monuments in America ramped up over the summer after violence broke out between white supremacists protesting the removal of a Lee statue from a park in Charlottesville and counterprotesters.

President Donald Trump was criticized for his response to the incident, which left one woman dead and dozens more injured, after he said that “both sides” were to blame for the violence. Critics questioned his unwillingness to condemn white supremacy outright.

>> Related: Heather Heyer's parents preach love, action after daughter’s death: 'You just magnified her'

Trump told a crowd gathered for a rally in Arizona in August that the removal of Confederate statues was tantamount to trying to wipe out American history.

“They’re trying to take away our culture, they’re trying to take away our history,” Trump said. “And our weak leaders, they do it overnight.”

Still, dozens of statues were taken down in cities across the country after the Charlottesville protests.

Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chair, leaves lobbying firm amid Mueller probe

Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta lobbying group and brother of former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, has alerted clients he is stepping down from the firm.

>> Mueller investigation: Paul Manafort, 2 other former Trump campaign staffers charged

That announcement came this morning in an all-staff meeting at the firm, according to Politico.

>> What are Paul Manafort, Rick Gates charged with?

>> Mueller investigation: Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous pleads guilty

Last week, NBC News reported that special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation was looking into the Podesta Group and Tony Podesta for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Podesta Group CEO Kimberley Fritts and a “senior group” will launch a new firm.

>> On Rare.us: John Podesta shares the details of the FBI’s involvement in his email leaks

The Podesta Group was one firm that worked on a PR campaign led by Paul Manafort for his client, European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU), which promoted Ukrainian interests, according to the Politico report.

>> Read more trending news 

Podesta’s announcement came on the same day that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates turned themselves into the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a 12-count indictment charging them with “conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts,” per the indictment.

Judge blocks Trump from barring transgender troops from the military

A federal judge in Washington on Monday temporarily halted President Donald Trump’s decision to bar transgender people from joining the U.S. military.

>> Read more trending news

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary injunction against Trump’s decision, saying the plaintiffs in the case are likely to succeed in their argument that it violates their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. Kollar-Kotelly was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton. 

 >> On MyAJC.com: IN-DEPTH: President Trump: No transgender troops allowed in the U.S. military 

All five plaintiffs — a Coast Guardsmen, three soldiers and an airman with nearly 60 years of combined service — are identified as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit. They said they want to remain anonymous because they fear retribution. Some have completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, are assisting the plaintiffs. 

>> On MyAJC.com: RELATED: Transgender U.S. service members sue to block Trump’s ban 

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Mueller investigation: Paul Manafort, 2 other former Trump campaign staffers charged

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a former business associate, Rick Gates, turned themselves in to federal authorities Monday to face 12 charges in connection to a months-long probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

Manafort and his attorney showed up at the FBI’s Washington field office around 8:15 a.m., The New York Times reported. Gates also turned himself in, The Associated Press reported.

In a 31-page, 12-count indictment approved Friday by a grand jury, federal prosecutors accused Manafort and Gates of conspiring against the United States, conspiring to launder money and working as unregistered foreign agents.

Another former Trump campaign staffer, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI agents in the investigation, headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, officials said Monday.

Mueller investigation: Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleads guilty

George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser for then-candidate Donald Trump before Trump won November’s presidential election, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to the FBI, according to court records released Monday.

>> Read more trending news

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to lying to federal authorities investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump campaign officials. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel to head the investigation in May.

Mueller's office released unsealed court records on Monday showing Papadopoulos admitted to misleading FBI agents during interviews on Jan. 27 and Feb. 17 about his contact with people thought to be connected to high-ranking Russian officials.

The case marks the first known guilty plea connected to the Mueller investigation.

>> Related: Mueller investigation: Paul Manafort, 2 other former Trump campaign staffers indicted

Papadopoulos told investigators that he understood that one of the Trump campaign's main foreign policy goals was to improve relations between Washington and Moscow. To that end, he tried several times to set up meetings between Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

He failed to disclose his attempts to authorities, despite inquiries from the FBI.

He admitted that he lied about when he met a London-based professor who claimed that the Russians had "thousands of emails" that amounted to "dirt" on Trump rival Hillary Clinton. He told that he met the professor before joining the presidential campaign in March 2016 and attempted to downplay their communications, telling agents that he believed the professor "was 'BS'ing, to be completely honest."

However, officials determined that the meeting took place in London days after Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign and that Papadopoulos kept contact with the professor for months. He believed the professor was well-connected in Russian government circles and communicated with him about foreign policy issues in an effort to arrange a “history making” meeting between Trump campaign and Russian government officials, court records show.

He also lied about his contact with an unnamed Russia woman, who he identified in an email as “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s niece,” and contact with a person who said he had connections to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, court records show.

Authorities said Papadopoulos believed the unidentified Russian woman could help him to arrange a possible foreign policy trip to Russia. 

>> Related: Reports: Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, told to surrender to federal authorities 

Officials indicated that Papadopoulos made moves to bury his ties to the professor and the person connected to the Russian Foreign Ministry when, one day after his second interview with FBI officials, he deactivated a longtime Facebook account that he kept "which contained information about communications he had with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection," authorities said. He created a new Facebook page a short time later, which did not have the information on it. 

Papadopoulos also switched to a new phone number that same month.

Authorities arrested Papadopoulos at Washington Dulles International Airport on July 27 and has since agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to court records.

Mueller’s investigation continues.

>> Related: What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?

Two other Trump campaign advisers, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, were indicted on a slew of charges Friday, including accusations that they conspired against the United States. Both men turned themselves in to authorities Monday.

Ivana Trump claims she raised Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric on her own

President Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, is claiming that she raised the couple’s children on her own.

During an interview with John Catsimatidis, Trump said she made all the decisions when it came to the couple’s three children, Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric.

>> Trump tears into Russia 'dossier,' Hillary Clinton and Uranium One in Twitter spree

“I told Donald, ‘There can only be one chef in the kitchen.’ And it was me. So I made all the decisions about the schooling, after-school activities,” Ivana Trump said during an interview on “The Cats Roundtable.” “I raised them on my own because Donald was always busy and making the deals.”

She added that the future president didn’t know how to connect with his kids until they were in university and able to talk business.

>> On Rare.us: Ivanka Trump comes to her little brother Barron’s defense in the face of online attacks

“He was not the kind of father who would take them to Central Park in the stroller or play games with them. He did not know how to speak the children’s language. He was not able to do it until the kids were in university. He could speak business with them,” Trump said.

>> Reports: First charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller

She continued: “When the kids were 21 years old, I said, ‘Here’s the final product. Now it is your job to continue.’”

The president’s former wife also talked about his presidential ambition years before he ran for office, saying that he wanted to run in the ’90s but that their nasty divorce swayed the public’s opinion of him.

>> Read more trending news

“He was playing with the idea of becoming president, then but then we got the divorce. And that was the scandal. American women — they loved me and hated Donald. So he would never really win. He would never get their vote,” she said. But now that he’s president, she thinks he’s doing a “very good job.”

Trump tears into Russia 'dossier,' Hillary Clinton and Uranium One in Twitter spree

President Donald Trump began his Sunday by laying into his political enemies.

>> Reports: First charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted about the now-infamous “dossier” prepared by intel group Fusion GPS.

Recently, reports revealed the Clinton campaign was one of the major backers of the dossier.

>> Trump ally Roger Stone suspended from Twitter after profanity-laden rant

Trump also tweeted about the “Uranium Deal" – a reference to reportedly unfounded allegations that Hillary Clinton allowed the sale of uranium to Russian energy agency Rosatom in exchange for a $145 million donation to the Clinton Foundation – as well as Clinton’s email scandal. Fact-checking sites such as Snopes and FactCheck.org have disputed those claims.

>> Read more trending news

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out,” Trump tweeted. “DO SOMETHING!”

Although the tweets came just days after reports that a grand jury approved the first charges filed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, White House lawyer Ty Cobb told NBC News that Trump's tweets were not "a reaction to anything involving the special counsel, with whom the White House continues to cooperate."

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Donald Trump thanks Jimmy Carter for 'nice remarks' about media coverage

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to thank former President Jimmy Carter for his remarks about “how badly I am treated by the press.”

>> See the tweet here

>> Reports: First charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Trump was referring to a recent interview with the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that had the Georgia native asserting the “media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.”

>> Trump ally Roger Stone suspended from Twitter after profanity-laden rant

Added Carter: “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

>> Donald Trump slams Michael Moore's Broadway show as 'total bomb'; filmmaker fires back

Also in that interview, the Democrat offered Trump his services to negotiate with North Korea’s leader – an offer the White House formally rebuffed on Friday.

>> Read more trending news

The 93-year-old repeated that he and his wife Rosalynn voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in last year’s Democratic primary. He questioned whether Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election changed “enough votes, or any votes” to matter. And he knocked some of former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions.

Trump ally Roger Stone suspended from Twitter after profanity-laden rant

Longtime President Donald Trump associate Roger Stone was suspended from Twitter on Saturday after lashing out at CNN’s Don Lemon and other members of the press on Friday night, Politico reports.

>> Reports: First charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller

>> Donald Trump slams Michael Moore's Broadway show as 'total bomb'; filmmaker fires back

In what appeared to be a response to CNN’s Friday night report that the first charges have been filed in the Russian election meddling investigation, Stone reportedly tweeted a profanity-laden rant about Lemon, calling for the anchor to be mocked and punished. Stone also hurled inflammatory insults in the direction of Jake Tapper and Ana Navarro, reports said.

>> Read more trending news

“I have been informed that I have been suspended for 3 hours and 12 minutes,” Stone told Fox News in a text message. “While I am uncertain why, sometimes the stark truth offends some people. I’ll be baaaaaak.”

The account was still suspended early Sunday.

>> On Rare.us: The JFK documents are out, and the new wrinkles in history are aplenty

A spokesperson for Twitter indicated that the social media platform has policies prohibiting harassment and abuse, including inciting others to harass or abuse. Stone could face permanent suspension under the company’s guidelines.

Stone, who was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee in its Russia probe, is a political consultant and longtime informal adviser to Trump and does not work for the White House in any formal capacity.

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