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Politics & Government

National Security Elites Consider Whether To Work For Trump

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Back in March, before Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, a group of national security heavyweights signed an open letter that called Trump fundamentally dishonest and utterly unfit for the presidency. Now, two days after Trump's victory, some in the national security establishment are wondering whether to return to the fold. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly is here to talk about this. Hey, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Remind us who the signatories to this letter are.

KELLY: So these are people who've served in senior jobs at the State Department, at the Pentagon, at the White House, at the Justice Department. One hundred twenty-two of them signed this letter, and these are people who identify as Republicans. So I spent my day today working my way through that list - again, 122. I have not reached all of them yet, but I did reach quite a few. And what I heard over and over is they are wrestling with this. There is a lot of soul searching going on. This is a hot, live conversation right now in the national security establishment.

SHAPIRO: Explain why somebody who has called Donald Trump unfit for the presidency would consider going to work for him.

KELLY: This is the precise question that I put to a lot of people today. And what I heard back was it is one thing to oppose someone for president. If, however, despite your wishes, that person becomes president, then maybe you have a duty as an American - a patriotic duty - to see that administration succeed. One of the people I reached today who made a case along those lines is Peter Feaver. He served on both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush's National Security Councils. He said if the president calls and asks you to serve your country, you do not reflexively say no. And I pushed him on that and said, you signed a Never Trump list. He said Never Trump was a hashtag.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

KELLY: You know, you don't expect you're going to get the call if you put yourself on the Never Trump list, but if you do - if your president calls - you have to take it seriously.

SHAPIRO: Did you talk to people who said Never Trump was more than a hashtag, that they really mean Never Trump?

KELLY: There are definitely people out there for whom Never Trump has really never, ever Trump. I will tell you about another signer of that of - that letter, Kori Schake, who has worked at the Pentagon, at the State Department, also served in the Bush White House. She said, I still wouldn't serve in a Trump administration, even if they called. But interestingly, she's calling former colleagues and encouraging them to do so. And her reasoning is that conservatives should join a Trump administration to help narrow, as she describes it, the gap between what Trump said he would do on the campaign trail and what he might actually be persuaded to do once he assumes the presidency.

SHAPIRO: What about the other direction? Are there people in the government in non-partisan positions who are thinking about leaving when Donald Trump comes in?

KELLY: There certainly are. I mean, during the campaign all through the summer and fall, I was talking to career intelligence officers, for example, who were deeply unsettled by remarks that Trump made on nuclear security, on the use of torture, on Russia. And I am now calling those people back and asking, are you wrestling with whether to stay and serve a President Trump?

SHAPIRO: When we talk about this letter, it's a public letter. Would the Trump people take somebody back after they signed a Never Trump letter like that?

KELLY: Not necessarily. You know, Trump railed repeatedly against what he calls the failed Washington elite and has said he wants to bring in new voices - that he's going to reach out to Wall Street, that he's going to reach out to Silicon Valley. And those calls are going out. Now, there are practical considerations, like people need a security clearance. And people from Silicon Valley may bring many strengths, but you need a security clearance to start working on day one. So those are all things that are being worked through right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, thanks.

KELLY: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.