Tarnished by Trump: National security officials struggle to find new jobs

The problem got worse on Wednesday after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and persuaded several senior officials to resign in protest at the widespread condemnation of Trump by Democrats and Republicans.

“I’ve had conversations with people who have worked on the national security teams, many of whom are intelligence officers who are concerned about what will happen next,” said Olivia Troye, a former Homeland Security and White House officer who worked at the August left and was an outspoken critic of Trump’s response to the pandemic.

“People who hire see everything that has happened and they have to question your morals and ethics – especially about what is happening today – why you chose to work for this environment,” she said .

Officials working in national security are particularly hard hit by this challenge. Many are linked to controversial Trump policies and scandals, be it separating children on the border or politicizing the military when Pentagon leaders stood with Trump for a photo op after authorities forcibly removed Lafayette Square from protesters had freed.

In some cases, the opposition that officials face from potential employers is extreme. A senior defense official who had been looking for a new job for two years with no luck recalled an interview in which he was told that he was considered part of the “Hitler Youth”.

“That attitude is not helpful,” said the person.

The senior defense official generally described a sense of “Trump Administration Animus” from potential outside employers, which is frustrating for officials who do not consider themselves “hardcore MAGA people”.

During her own job hunt that summer, Troye was told directly by a potential employer that they could not offer her a job because it was a “liability”.

“I can’t tell you how hurtful it was to hear that,” Troye said, noting that the incident was a reality check.

National security jobs are harder to come by than most because applicants require security clearance and special skills.

More of a civilian than a political candidate, Troye said she took the White House job to “make a difference” and fought policies that she believed were wrong. The incident with the employer “showed me firsthand the impact of navigating this area,” she said.

Elizabeth Neumann, another former homeland security officer working on counterterrorism, said she had no direct problems finding a new job following her resignation in April. But that was mainly due to the fact that she immediately spoke out against Trump’s policies.

Still, during her job hunt, she told several cases where she heard through her network that certain companies would never consider hiring her because she worked in the Trump administration.

While junior staff working on non-controversial issues may have no problem finding new employment, anyone associated with controversial Trump policies like immigration has been blacklisted, Neumann said.

“There is absolutely an impact of a number of organizations trying to blacklist someone who has worked on separating children,” Neumann said, for example.

Other former officials say they heard of many former colleagues who struggled to find work after January 20. While senior officials may have strong networks and not have much trouble finding employment, it is the younger officials who have limited experience and no previous reputation that are challenged, said a former defense official.

“Some of these people are really smart, good, and hardworking, but they are also strong Trump supporters, which puts many in the D.C. think tank community off,” the person said. “I think it’s going to be a tough couple of months for the people.”

Another senior administration official looking for a new job compared the challenges Trump officials will face when it comes to the backlash against George W. Bush officials. The person previously turned down a senior position in the White House, foreseeing that people working directly for Trump would be further challenged to find outside employment.

“Headhunters have told me that talented people are hired. It will just be about how many talented people there are,” the person said.

But many Trump officials who are struggling to find work now – from junior staff to cabinet secretaries – are faced with questions because they are not leaving sooner. Many of these officials are the same people who privately complained about Trump’s instability but “were all too willing to make it happen,” said another former senior official.

“They find that the silence has cost them both their conscience and their careers,” the person said. “People knew Trump was going to be toxic, but they secured themselves anyway in the hope that they could get four more years of job stability.”

Others defended their decision to stay as long as possible, recalling being torn between trying to prevent the president from doing further damage and being an outsider.

Ultimately, Troye got to the point where she felt she couldn’t make a difference and had to make a “moral choice,” she said.

But her decision was a double-edged sword. Not only does she have the baggage to work for the Trump administration, but she is also a whistleblower. She is concerned that future employers will not see her as trustworthy based on her decision to speak up.

“For some people you are a hero, for many you are a traitor,” said Troye.

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