Normally Invisible, National Security Figures Assume Prominent Election Role National security leaders are playing a far more prominent role than in previous elections. Current officials are trying to reassure voters. Many former leaders are criticizing the president.

Normally Invisible, National Security Figures Assume Prominent Election Role

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/922293088/923737091" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

National security officials usually keep a low profile during election years - well, not this year. Current officials have spoken up to reassure voters that the election is well-protected. That's in sharp contrast to a president who questions the integrity of the vote. And many former leaders are publicly taking sides for the first time by endorsing Joe Biden. For more on this, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So, you know, we're talking about officials who are supposed to be nonpartisan. They're supposed to lay low during elections. What's going on this year?

MYRE: So national security officials are much more visible, though it is important to distinguish here between current and former officials. So let's start with the current officials. Four of them, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, recently put out a nine-minute video to say you can vote with confidence. The results will be accurate and valid. So let's give a listen to Wray here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: We're not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election.

MYRE: So Wray and the others are saying pretty basic things that you'd expect them to say, but they clearly felt compelled to make all these points in this video. And it's quite striking because it's very much in contrast to President Trump.

CHANG: So what is President Trump saying about all this?

MYRE: Well, Trump called Wray disappointing for not doing more to investigate vote fraud, even though there's no evidence that this is a serious problem. And nonetheless, the president keeps questioning mail-in voting. He predicts the election will be corrupt. He refuses to say that he'll accept the results. And there was another official in this same video that I mentioned, Bill Evanina. He's a senior counterintelligence official. And back in August, he put out a statement on behalf of the entire intelligence community, saying that Russia is trying to undermine Joe Biden. Now, he underscored that the intelligence community is looking for this and is well-prepared to combat it. But as we've seen for years, Trump has ignored or downplayed these talks of Russian interference. And it continues - he continues to be very much at odds with the intelligence community.

CHANG: OK, what about former officials? I mean, normally, they stay out of presidential politics, right?

MYRE: What we're seeing this year really is unprecedented. It is a year like no other. We have hundreds of former military and intelligence officials signing group letters. They're making videos, explicitly taking partisan positions. And it's very important to note that some of these are people that worked in the Trump administration, like the former national security adviser John Bolton, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Now, I spoke with John Sipher, a former CIA officer and now a frequent critic of the president. He said he never expected to be in this position but felt he did need to speak up.

JOHN SIPHER: President Trump has created something that we haven't seen before. I think there's quite a few people, myself included, by no means would be as partisan or political as we are now. I think that has to do with - mostly with President Trump's sort of shredding of the institutions.

CHANG: But are all of these former national security officials speaking out against Trump now?

MYRE: Not all of them - Trump certainly has some support among the national security community, which traditionally tends to lean conservative. The president likes to cite two 235 former generals and admirals who signed a letter supporting him. But many more have come out in favor of Biden, especially more prominent figures. One case in particular worth noting - and that's retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has endorsed Biden. McChrystal was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan back in 2010, but he was abruptly fired when he was quoted as insulting Biden in Rolling Stone magazine. But now McChrystal says, quote, "you have to believe your commander in chief is someone you can trust. And I can trust Joe Biden."

CHANG: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.