Branstad refutes rumors he'll be 'key economic adviser' to Trump campaign

Governor's office also calls 'overblown' news of Rastetter as ag secretary

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With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leading Donald Trump’s transition team should the Republican nominee win the White House this fall, speculation has been simmering over whether he’d find room for his Iowa political pals — including Gov. Terry Branstad and Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter.

On Tuesday, a group of New Jersey newspapers including the Star-Ledger reported, citing two anonymous sources with the Trump campaign, that Branstad and Rastetter could soon be announced as key economic advisers to the campaign and that Rastetter is a “leading candidate” to become the U.S. secretary of agriculture should Trump win office.

A spokesman for the governor’s office disputed the report, calling it “overblown.”

Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes said the governor in the last few weeks has talked with Trump privately.

“He’s agreed to advise the campaign on issues that are important to Iowa — namely renewable fuels and renewable energy,” Hammes said. “That’s the role that he has agreed to play in this. I think it’s been a little overblown in that article that he’s serving in some official capacity to the campaign.”

“That’s not the case,” Hammes said. “He’ll be serving in sort of an unofficial role in advising Trump, specifically on the importance of renewable fuels.”

Hammes added that Branstad has not advised Trump to pick Rastetter as agriculture secretary, nor has he heard Rastetter’s name come up.

“I wasn’t privy to those conversations, and I don’t believe those have taken place,” he said. “Now, if they did, they could have taken place between the Trump campaign and Rastetter, I don’t know. But we weren’t part of those.”

Rastetter, an agribusiness entrepreneur who has given millions to local and national political campaigns including those of Branstad and Christie, didn’t respond Tuesday afternoon to The Gazette’s questions.

When Trump held a campaign rally July 28 in Cedar Rapids, Rastetter was seen by a columnist for The Gazette meeting with the nominee and others privately.

The New Jersey newspapers’ report, which appeared on NJ.com, cited an unnamed Iowa GOP donor who previously backed Christie as saying Rastetter has made it his “life goal” to become secretary of agriculture.

Although Rastetter made his millions in the pork and ethanol industries and today is chief executive of Summit Agricultural Group, he has become widely known for his political dealings.

He was among a group of core donors who urged Branstad to seek a return to the governorship in 2010 — giving the most of any individual donor.

Months after Branstad was elected, the governor appointed Rastetter to the Board of Regents, of which he has been president since 2013.

Rastetter has increased his political involvement over the years, endorsing and contributing to Christie’s campaign both in 2011 and last year, and hosting the Iowa Agriculture Summit in 2015 for this campaign’s crop of political candidates.

Trump did not attend that summit, and Rastetter hasn’t publicly endorsed Trump.

However, Branstad has said he will support Trump and his son, Eric Branstad, is serving as the Iowa state director for the nominee.

Christie, who was Rastetter’s choice for the presidential nomination, has urged Republican lawmakers recently to get behind Trump.

“Now, with many donors and governors eschewing Trump, Christie’s connections will become even more important to Trump,” the New Jersey article reported.

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