Evan McMullin won’t say specifically where he lived during an 11-year span of his life, but you can probably figure it out.
“My main role was to recruit penetrations inside of terrorist groups after 9/11, but also inside foreign governments and recruit those people to work on behalf of the United States secretly,” McMullin, a former CIA operations officer, said in an interview this week with The Daily Caller.
“I did that in South Asia, I did that all over the Middle East, some of that in North Africa,” McMullin said.
What countries was he in?
“I’m not, I’m not really supposed to talk about that,” he replied.
“I was in all the conflict zones, hostile zones where Al Qaeda leadership was,” McMullin eventually said. “I’m giving you a lot here. I mean, it’s not complicated math. I was in all the war zones after 9/11.”
Until just over a week ago, McMullin was hardly known in political circles. Now, the 40-year old is running as a conservative alternative to Donald Trump for president. With the help of some experienced Republican operatives — like Rick Wilson of Florida — McMullin is trying to get media attention and is working to get on as many state ballots across the country as possible.
During a 30-minute interview with TheDC on Wednesday, McMullin strongly pushed back against the argument that it’s problematic that a presidential candidate isn’t able to talk specifically about parts of his professional life — including where he even lived at times.
“What you’re suggesting is that the people who serve in the CIA shouldn’t run for president because they’ve worked on classified projects in defense of the country,” McMullin charged.
“I mean, President Bush Sr., he was the head of the CIA… if that’s a concern then it would have been a huge concern for him,” he said.
McMullin argued members of the military often deal with classified information and aren’t subjected to the same line of questioning when they run for office.
“There is sort of a double standard there in a way,” he said. “You know, nobody is going to say to a Navy SEAL, ‘Hey, you know, you did classified things out there. We don’t know what they were. Maybe, you know, is this a great thing for you to run for office given that we can’t know everything you did as a Navy Seal?’ I mean, it just wouldn’t happen.”
As for what McMullin, who was in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, says he can’t talk about: “Basically the people who were working with us…I can’t reveal their names because their lives are at risk, so you know that’s something that I have to take to the grave… I don’t think that’s relevant to this campaign… I’ve committed also to never revealing the identities of other undercover CIA people and, you know, that’s something I will honor.”
Who is he?
Until launching his campaign last week, McMullin was working as an aide on Capitol Hill for the House Republican Conference.
“A lot of Americans are very frustrated with the two options they have,” McMullin said. “And I had been hoping that somebody else would step forward, some conservative independent at least, to run and give us a better option. And a few weeks ago, I reached out to some of the people who had been involved in an effort to find somebody else to run—see where they were. And upon doing that, I learned that they still hadn’t found somebody who was willing to actually go forward with this and those discussions led to the idea of my potentially doing it.”
McMullin said he took a week and a half to think about it.
“Somebody, I believed, had to do this,” he said. “And I thought well, you know, maybe I won’t be successful and I could be ridiculed. The Trump supporters will certainly come after me. But…neither of those things were a good enough reason not to do it if it otherwise needed to be done.”
If Donald Trump’s rise has taught us anything, it’s that we’re in an age of populist rage. How does someone from a number of elite institutions — he’s a former CIA officer, Ivy league business school graduate, Goldman-Sachs employee and aide to the House Republican leadership — represents what the country is asking for right now?
“Well I would push back a little bit on that,” he said. “I don’t think the CIA represents the country’s elite. The CIA represents Americans who put their lives on the line and sacrifice, in some cases, everything to serve this country. There’s nothing elitist about who the CIA is and who its people are… That’s just service to the country.”
“I mean,” he continued, “I came from a poor family. I grew up in a house where I used to overhear my parents talking about how we were going to lose the house. I watched my college-educated dad who wasn’t making enough to support the family during in his day job have to get a paper route. And he would get up at 3 A.M. and go deliver papers and sometimes I would do it, go out there and do it with him. I mean we didn’t have money to heat the house in the winter.”
“I mean that’s what I came from,” McMullin continued. “I worked very, very hard for everything I’ve had in life. And that’s the kind of guy I am. I’m not somebody who was born with multi-million dollar parents. Or, you know, I wasn’t able to go to elite boarding schools and all of that.”
McMullin, a Mormon, attended Brigham Young University from 1997 to 2001, according to his LinkedIn page.
Some critics online have questioned how he started his job at the CIA in 1999, as his LinkedIn page states, if he was still an undergraduate in Utah. A campaign spokesman clarified to TheDC that McMullin was part of a program where he “worked semester-on, semester-off at CIA while in college.”
Asked about McMullin, the CIA declined to comment on Thursday, saying as a general policy, they do not discuss personnel matters.
Where he stands on issues
On trade, immigration and refugees, McMullin differs from Trump’s message.
McMullin — who worked in Amman, Jordan in 2001 as a volunteer refugee resettlement officer — says he supports admitting refugees from Syria into the United States. He said his job in Jordan was to help vet refugees to make sure they don’t “pose a security threat to whatever country they might go to next.”
Asked about the security concerns, expressed by Donald Trump, about allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, he said: “If you’re a terrorist and you want to come to the United States, the worst possible way to do it is to try to infiltrate the refugee program and get in that way because you’re going to undergo far more scrutiny that way than you would if you just flew into Mexico and walked across the border.”
He added: “As far as refugees are concerned, they definitely need to be screened and vetted. And they go through a very robust process and I’m all for making the process even stronger.”
“And the idea that we’re going to all of a sudden going to bar all Muslims, all Muslim refugees and all Muslims in general — coming from Donald Trump — is a terrible idea,” he said. “What people don’t understand is that we derive a lot of our power and influence across the world by virtue of the good will that comes from our, our looking out for some of the most vulnerable people in the world and our standing for freedom and liberty, both here at home and around the world.”
McMullin said the United States doesn’t “take in that many of them, relatively speaking — but we take in a modest number, that’s the reality.”
Asked about Hillary Clinton’s proposal to increase refugees from Syria as many as 65,000 next year, he said: “I don’t know what the right number is. I haven’t made a study of that. But I will say that, I will say that the focus on the refugee, how many to take and all that is sort of a misguided sort of discussion. What we really need to be talking about is destroying ISIS and what’s causing all these massive refugee flows.”
Asked if he thinks the United States should have gone to war in Iraq, McMullin said: “I think in retrospect, certainly, it was a mistake. And I don’t mean that with any disrespect to George W. Bush because I think he did a lot of difficult things politically. He made a lot of political decisions and paid a lot of political prices to keep this country safe and he did it. He did that. He did exactly that at a difficult time. But I do think that going into Iraq was a mistake.”
Asked about waterboarding, the former CIA officer said: “I’m opposed to torture.”
On taxes, asked about Trump’s proposal during the primary to strip the carried interest deduction that helps private equity, the former investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs said: “I haven’t taken a position on that yet. I’ve been more focused on tax reforms for individual Americans and for businesses across the country.”
“I think that it’s been thirty years since we’ve really done any major reform of the tax system…we’ve got like seven brackets. We need to decrease that to, I think, to about three. We need to lower the top rate; lower the rates in general,” he said.
On immigration, McMullin has called for securing the border while also developing a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants already in the country.
“I just don’t think it’s realistic to deport 11 million people,” he said. “I just think it’s, you know, it’s clear the situation isn’t ideal. If it were up to me, years ago we would have secured the border and we would have been enforcing our laws all along. That’s what we should have done. We didn’t do that. As a result we have 11 million illegal people here, we’ve got to deal with it in a way that, you know, makes sense.”
On trade, McMullin supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership but says he understands those who blame past trade deals for killing jobs. “I think that in many cases they’re right, that’s happened,” he said. “I think a lot of people have also lost jobs as a result of automation…There are a lot of things happening in the global economy and the U.S. economy that are displacing jobs and industries. I think it’s true. And I think there are a lot of pro-trade people out there who sort of ignore that.”
“And my message is a little bit different and that is that hey, yes, we need to trade and we need our companies, our country needs better access to 95 percent of consumers, which are overseas not here,” he said. “But, we’ve also got to recognize that that is going to cause some shifts in industries and jobs. And we need to do a much much much better job helping people transition to even better paying jobs as our economy grows.”
His presidential campaign
As for choosing a running mate, McMullin says the priority for now is building a campaign infrastructure and getting on ballots, but “we do have a list of potential VP candidates that we’re looking at and we’re talking to.”
“I don’t expect to make a decision on that this month even,” he said.
As for what he is looking for in a running mate, he said: “First of all I’m looking for somebody who understands at a fundamental level what makes America special and what makes America strong. And that means they understand the Constitution. They respect the Constitution. They understand religious liberty. They understand the concept of people being born free and equal. They understand the separation of powers. They understand the 10th Amendment and the need to push more power back to the states. I really want to find somebody who just gets this sort of thing on a deep level.”
Added McMullin: “We’re talking to and looking at people who are already serving in elected office, we’re talking to entrepreneurs, we’re talking to people of all backgrounds, you know, a variety of ethnic backgrounds and religious backgrounds and men and women.”
As for electoral strategy, McMullin acknowledged one path is winning enough states to deprive either Clinton or Trump of winning 270 electoral votes, throwing the election to the House. “That is one of them. But it is only one.”
Speaking of the Republican nominee, he volunteered: “I think Donald Trump is imploding. I’m hearing from people, people who I know actually in his campaign, that he’s being becoming more reclusive. Which, sort of drawing on my CIA days, to me is an indicator that he’s losing it a little. He’s certainly losing at least the fire in his belly, to continue. So I don’t know if he stays in actually. He may, but I don’t know if he does.”
Speculating that Trump could conceivably even drop out at some point, he added: “You know, it’s such an uncommon, peculiar election cycle; it just feels like anything could happen.”
Alex Pfeiffer contributed to this report.