WASHINGTON (CNN) – In the best tradition of the CIA spymaster he once was, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is still holding his cards close on whether he has had any discussions with President-elect Obama about remaining at his post in the new administration.
Speaking tersely to CNN in a Pentagon hallway Friday, Gates said, "Nice try," when asked if he or his staff had spoken to the president-elect or his staff.
He said he had "nothing to add" to a statement he made earlier this week in which he told reporters, "I have nothing new to say on that subject."
But Gates' non-answers are a change from earlier in the year, when the idea seemed more remote.
"The circumstances under which I would do that are inconceivable to me," Gates craftily replied in an April 2008 Pentagon news briefing.
Asked later in the summer while touring Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, he gave the same answer, but added an all-important qualifier: "I've learned never to say never."
Behind the scenes, there continues to be chatter about whether Gates will have a role in the new administration.
Several months ago the Obama campaign called Gates to ask if he would be willing to stay on, according to a source who was in the room when the call came.
The source said Gates' initial response, after he hung up the phone, was that he was not likely to stay.
But lately Gates has confided to close associates that he might be around a bit longer, according to the source.
Sources inside the Obama transition team have told CNN that the idea of Gates staying "for a certain period" is a real possibility.
It is, as another source said, "the approach that carries the greatest support, currently."
– CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger contributed to this report