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Trump Says He Will Release National Security Advisers List

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of the biggest questions about Republican front-runner Donald Trump is, what exactly are his views on national security? And who helped shape them? The candidate has said he listens mainly to himself. But he has promised to release a list of advisers as early as today. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been looking into who might be on a Trump national security team. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And we've heard Trump talk about national security. He said he would rebuild the military, for one. He said he would, "knock the hell out of ISIS" - that's a quote. And he said he'd return to harsh tactics, including torture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I would bring back waterboarding. And I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Trump, thank you...

MONTAGNE: Why is it important - you know, hearing this we can get what he has to say and what he thinks he's going to do. But why is it important to know specifically about his advisers?

BOWMAN: Well, Renee, it gives you a sense of what his priorities are, where he's going with the military. Now of course, Trump really has no experience in this area. And it's not that unusual for a major candidate running for president. You'd have to go back to, maybe, Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis in 1988 or after that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - all governors.

But Trump is unique, of course, for his rhetoric. Some of it outlandish, like that torture comment. Then he backtracked on that later and said, I'd never ask the military to do something illegal. But comments like that led to more than 100 Republican national security leaders to denounce him in an open letter. Also what he says is generally vague, even by political standards. I'll rebuild the military, I'll destroy ISIS - with no sense of the way ahead, no position papers at this point.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK. The campaign hasn't released a list of advisers. But what have you found from people in the defense world about who has been talking to Trump?

BOWMAN: I haven't really found much yet. Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, has spoken with Trump. He wouldn't describe their conversations. Right now on Trump's national security team you basically have Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Senator Sessions said two weeks ago - with Trump standing right next to him - the Middle East policy should be based on shared interest, not merely overthrowing regimes.

Sessions also talked about creating regional safe zones for refugees fleeing ISIS - something the Obama administration has refused to do. But again, Renee, no specifics.

MONTAGNE: Briefly, let's move on to the other campaigns. Are they making public their lists?

BOWMAN: Yes. Ted Cruz has said he has former Reagan State Department official Elliott Abrams; another Reagan defense official - Frank Gaffney. Hillary Clinton, of course, has a lot of experience in this area. She has people supporting her, like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Bernie Sanders has thrown out a couple of names - defense analyst Larry Korb, who worked under Reagan in the Pentagon. But Sanders really doesn't dwell as much on foreign policy and defense.

MONTAGNE: And - and Tom, you're a Pentagon reporter. What are you hearing from active duty and retired officers about Trump? Back to him.

BOWMAN: Well, it's funny. I had a couple of retired senior officers I spoke with. They were kind of scratching their heads about some of the things Trump has said. One said Trump has an unbelievably limited knowledge on defense. Another said his comments are kooky. And what's interesting, Renee, is I had one active duty two-star general say to me, I'm scared of Trump.

MONTAGNE: Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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