Clovis to stay at USDA, avoid testifying under oath

Earlier this week, I was surprised when key U.S. Senate Republicans indicated the confirmation process for Sam Clovis would move ahead as scheduled. I knew they didn’t care Clovis lacks the qualifications spelled out in federal law for the chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But why would a key figure in an expanding criminal probe of possible collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign want to take questions under oath at an open hearing?

As it turned out, he didn’t.

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Chuck Grassley's odd reaction to the first Mueller indictments

Let’s start with the good news: despite being an early skeptic on the need for a special prosecutor to investigate possible collusion between Russian entities and President Donald Trump’s campaign, Senator Chuck Grassley told CNN’s Manu Raju today, “The president should let the special counsel do his job.”

Commenting further on Robert Mueller’s first indictments, Grassley said in a written statement that “it’s important to let our legal system run its course,” and that the “Judiciary Committee is continuing its work to ensure that the Justice Department and FBI are functioning free from inappropriate influence […].” As chair of that Committee, Grassley is better-placed than most Republicans to let the White House know Congress will not tolerate efforts to obstruct justice by firing Mueller before his investigation is complete.

The rest of Grassley’s news release focused on a small part of Mueller’s case against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates. Seizing on that angle–failure by Manafort and Gates to register as foreign agents–allowed the senator to highlight his longstanding concerns about similar lawbreaking by Democratic consultants and lobbyists. Today’s statement continued Grassley’s pattern of focusing his investigative energy on “tangential subjects,” in an apparent effort “to minimize the culpability of Trump and his aides and to deflect attention from the core issues of the controversy.”

Grassley did not address a newly-disclosed guilty plea by a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. The government’s “Statement of the Offense” charging George Papadopoulos with lying to the FBI, filed on October 5 but released today, lays out a damning timeline of attempts to connect Trump representatives with Russian officials. That document also indicates that Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, who know more than what has been made public so far.

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Bill Northey, Sam Clovis lined up for senior USDA posts

Two weeks after Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey publicly expressed interest in a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he appears to have an offer on the table. Farm Journal Radio reported on May 12 that Northey will become undersecretary for farm production and conservation, a position that “includes overseeing the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.” The source was Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president of policy and trade issues for Informa Economics Inc. WHO-TV’s Dave Price said his sources confirm Northey is the pick for that job. UPDATE: Agri-Pulse was first to report this news Friday morning.

Depending on when Northey resigns, either Governor Terry Branstad or soon-to-be-Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint someone to serve as secretary of agriculture until after the 2018 election. State Representative Pat Grassley has long been rumored to be interested in Northey’s job. That statewide position would be a nice stepping stone to a campaign for his grandfather Chuck Grassley’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

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Pat Grassley could be biggest winner if Bill Northey moves to USDA

A potential federal job for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey may provide a stepping stone for State Representative Pat Grassley.

Northey discussed ethanol policy at the White House on Tuesday during a round-table meeting with President Donald Trump and newly-confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Reports of the event fueled speculation that Northey may soon move to a position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Speaking to Iowa reporters yesterday, Northey emphasized that no job offer is on the table but said of Perdue, “I certainly look forward to working with him. I don’t know what role that might be. […] I certainly would love to work with him as Iowa Secretary of Ag. If there’s another job offered, I’d be very willing to consider that as well.”

Trump put Iowa’s own Sam Clovis in charge of handling USDA appointments in January, after Clovis had served as his surrogate in some agricultural policy discussions during the campaign.

Northey has not clarified whether he plans to seek a fourth term as secretary of agriculture in 2018. He had been widely expected to run for governor next year but ruled that out immediately after Governor Terry Branstad agreed to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.

If Northey resigns before the end of his term, Iowa law calls for the governor to appoint a replacement to serve until the next election. The last time that process came into play, Branstad named Mary Mosiman as state auditor in 2013. She was unchallenged for the GOP nomination for that office the following year.

I would expect Grassley to lobby Branstad–or Kim Reynolds, if she is acting as governor by that time–for the secretary of agriculture position. The job would be a good way to increase his statewide profile with a view to running for his grandfather’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022. The elder Grassley wasn’t subtle about lobbying for Northey to get the top USDA job, presumably to clear a path for his grandson.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2006, the younger Grassley just completed his second year leading the House Appropriations Committee. He had previously chaired the House Agriculture Committee for three years and the Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa Committee for two years before that.

I enclose below the official bios for Northey and Pat Grassley. Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson posted the audio of Northey’s comments about a possible USDA position.

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Iowans shut out of Trump's cabinet, and Chuck Grassley's not happy

The less said about President Donald Trump’s divisive, angry, poorly-delivered inaugural address, the better.

Catching up on transition news of particular importance to Iowa, yesterday Trump’s team finally announced that former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Perdue had long been considered a front-runner for the last cabinet position to be filled, but Trump delayed the selection for weeks in an apparent scramble to find a Latino. (He is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to appoint any Latinos to a cabinet-level position.)

The only Iowans Trump has tapped for important jobs so far are Sam Clovis, who is heading the transition at USDA, future U.S. Ambassador to China Governor Terry Branstad, and Eric Branstad, in line to become White House liaison to the Commerce Department. (By some accounts, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton is on Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Senator Chuck Grassley had expressed concern about the delay in choosing a secretary of agriculture and specifically about rumored efforts to find someone other than a white man for the job. He didn’t sound pleased about the Perdue appointment either.

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