In March of 2016 Donald Trump was getting a growing number of questions about who was advising him on foreign policy. He did not seem to have any foreign policy advisors. So when he met with The Washington Post editorial board on March 21st he announced a team of five foreign policy advisors. Walid Phares, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Joe Schmitz, and ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.
For a long time we did not know on what basis the five had been chosen or who had done the choosing. But as the Russia probe heated up, it became clear that the person who chose the group was Sam Clovis. We now know that two of those five men immediately began trying to establish contacts between the Trump campaign and the government of Russia or spies working on behalf of Russia. Two of five. That’s a hell of a batting average.
The other of course is Carter Page, a fixture of the Russia probe since the beginning. Not only did he spend his time with the Trump campaign trying to broker connections with the Russian government. He was already the subject of a FISA warrant before he even hooked up with the campaign. In other words, before joining the Trump campaign, the FBI already believed Page was or was likely to be working as an agent of the Russian government and was able to convince a judge of that.
The rest weren’t great shakes either. Walid Phares is a fairly notorious member of the islamophobia crowd in Washington, DC. Joseph Schmitz, Jr. was accused of anti-semitism and holocaust denial during his tenure at the Bush Pentagon. The only reasonable or qualified guy was Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who currently serves as the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security council.
Based on yesterday’s revelations, we know that Clovis was George Papadopoulos’s primary interlocutor with the Trump campaign as he met with his Russian government contacts in London and Italy. “Great work” Clovis told Papadopoulos after one email exchange about Papadopoulos’s effort to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian leaders.
So what’s the story here?
Clovis’s background has always seemed a little hard to figure for the Russia story. He was a career Air Force officer who retired as a Colonel and later taught management classes at a small college in Iowa. He became a Tea Party big shot in the early Obama years and was also a talk radio guy. Since he’s from the caucus state of Iowa, he became a hot commodity in GOP primary campaign politics. He backed Rick Perry’s campaign early in the 2016 cycle before jumping ship and joining Trump as campaign co-chair and policy director. Again, it’s not the first profile I’d think of for someone trying to get the campaign hooked up with the Russian government or Russian intelligence.
Why would he be in this seemingly significant role in what were at least efforts at collusion?
As I was writing this post, news broke that Clovis has spoken to the Mueller team and testified before the grand jury impaneled for the Russia probe. I’ve heard conflicting reports about his level of cooperation. He is currently the nominee for the top scientist position at the Department of Agriculture, even though he’s not a scientist.
There’s some story here. It is impossible to believe that two of these five would dive into these kind of activities by some kind of coincidence. Clovis did not seem to find it all strange that Papadopoulos was doing this stuff. He encouraged it. There’s a story. What is it?