Backgrounder

The Significance of Sam Clovis

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November 17, 2017 4:35 pm

Let me expand on the significance of our Sam Clovis story.

Once Carter Page became a key figure in the Russia story, everyone wanted to know: who chose him? He wasn’t some controversial figure in the Republican foreign policy world. No one had ever heard of him. Did Manafort bring him in? Mike Flynn? It turned out it was Sam Clovis. This always seemed like an evidentiary dead-end. Sam Clovis? Clovis was a retired Air Force pilot who was working at a small college in Iowa when he became a big deal in the local Tea Party movement. He had a talk radio show. He ran for the GOP Senate nomination in 2014. The Iowa caucuses are a big deal. So as a local Tea Party big wig, Clovis was a catch. He initially signed on with Rick Perry. But he ditched Perry for Trump in August 2015.

Bringing on Clovis was a perfectly logical move for Trump, even a bit of a coup. The choice also presaged Trump’s hard and unshakeable relationship with the evangelical right. But what Clovis, a big shot Tea Partier from Iowa would have to do with Russia was totally unclear. So how did Page and Papadopoulos get picked? Also remember: According to the Papadopoulos plea deal, after signing on to the campaign, the first he heard was Clovis telling him that a rapprochement with Russia would be a “principal” focus of the campaign. Was that Clovis? Was that coming from Trump?

It’s in this context that this video seems so significant. All of a sudden, a lot of pieces seem to fit together, at least more logically than they had.

Here we have video that suggests that Clovis was highly sympathetic to Russian ambitions in Ukraine well before anyone thought Donald Trump was going to run for anything. So Russophilia clearly pre-dated Trump. If Trump’s decision to bring Clovis on board was inexplicable, that would be one thing. But as I noted above, it wasn’t. It made sense for entirely unrelated reasons. Did some significant part of the Trump campaign’s pro-Russia orientation came from Clovis? Or was that why he ended up with the campaign in the first place? Russia has made strides in recent years building bridges to the US evangelical right. Is that part of what we’re hearing here?

Remember that two of five of Trump’s first five named foreign policy advisors immediately started trying to set up channels of communication with Russia. That’s a high percentage. Is Clovis’s role as the chooser of the team bigger than we realized?

As you can see, there are many more questions here than answers. But how Clovis came into the campaign, how he chose Papadopoulos and Page, and the origins of his views on Russia now seem central to the story.

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