The White House had no idea that Sam Clovis testified before the grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, ABC News reported late Thursday.
ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the probe, that the White House learned Clovis had met with the grand jury from media reports rather than from Clovis himself.
Clovis was a co-chair on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on the campaign. Court documents unsealed on Monday revealed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.
“The White House was surprised to learn Mr. Clovis had been contacted by the Special Counsel’s office as part of their separate probe of Mr. Papadopoulos’ activities,” an unnamed White House source familiar with the probe told ABC News.
NBC News reported on Tuesday that Mueller questioned Clovis last week, and that Clovis testified before the grand jury in the same time period.
Clovis, a non-scientist, was the senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Trump’s former pick to serve as the department’s chief scientist.
He withdrew his nomination for the latter on Thursday after unsealed court documents revealed his correspondence with Papadopoulos during the campaign. Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to do so.
Clovis did not cite Papadopoulos’ guilty plea or those emails in a letter withdrawing his nomination, instead blaming “the political climate inside Washington.”