Trump chooses hostage en­voy to re­place Bolton

Insiders call pick of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser a safe op­tion

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By John Wag­ner and John Hud­son

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump named Robert O’Brien as his new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Wed­nes­day as he seeks to re­align his staff and tem­per in­ter­nal di­vi­sions fol­low­ing the tur­bu­lent reign of for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton.

The ap­point­ment of O’Brien so­lid­i­fies the sta­tus of Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo as the most in­flu­en­tial for­eign pol­icy voice in the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Pom­peo has known O’Brien for years and backed his as­cen­sion to the job af­ter bat­tling with Bolton over an ar­ray of pol­icy is­sues on Afghanista­n, Iran and North Korea, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

O’Brien, who served as the na­tion’s top hostage ne­go­tia­tor, will now take on a more daunt­ing set of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as Trump’s fourth na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. He takes over amid es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with Iran, a high-stakes trade war with China, and con­cerns about whether he wields enough clout to forge con­sen­sus among the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s com­pet­ing egos and agen­cies.

But of­fi­cials said they hoped his friendly de­meanor and ex­pe­ri­ence as a lawyer could bring more sta­bil­ity and col­le­gial­ity to an of­ten chaotic pol­i­cy­mak­ing process go­ing into the 2020 elec­tion.

“A ma­jor con­cern is cut­ting back on the drama,” said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial, who like oth­ers spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak about in­ter­nal dy­nam­ics.

Trump praised his new pick in Los An­ge­les on Wed­nes­day, say­ing O’Brien has “worked with me for quite a while now on hostages and we have a tremen­dous track record on hostages.”

O’Brien called it a “priv­i­lege” to take the ad­viser role and cited a num­ber of “chal­lenges” he would take on in­clud­ing keep­ing Amer­ica safe and re­build­ing the mil­i­tary. On the height­ened ten­sions with Iran, he said “we’re look­ing at those is­sues now” and he would ad­vise the pres­i­dent pri­vately on how to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion.

Sev­eral of­fi­cials said O’Brien would be less re­sis­tant to fol­low­ing the pres­i­dent’s or­ders than his pre­de­ces­sor, who op­posed Trump’s ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea, with­drawal plans in Afghanista­n and in­ter­est in en­gag­ing with Ira­nian lead­ers.

O’Brien be­comes Trump’s fourth na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser since Jan­uary 2017.

U.S. of­fi­cials hope O’Brien’s ap­point­ment will put an end to the ram­pant feud­ing be­tween staffers for Pom­peo and Bolton, who at times did not share in­for­ma­tion with each other out of sus­pi­cion that it would be used to un­der­mine their po­si­tions ahead of a pres­i­den­tial pol­icy de­ci­sion.

In­side the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, O’Brien was viewed as the “safest op­tion” at a time when the na­tional se­cu­rity team wanted as lit­tle “drama” as pos­si­ble go­ing into the 2020 elec­tions, said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial, who re­quested anonymity.

“He gets along with ev­ery­body,” the of­fi­cial said. “He’s the nicest guy on the planet.”

His friendly de­meanor con­trasts with that of Bolton, who ran­kled of­fi­cials at the Pen­tagon and the State Depart­ment with his sharp-el­bowed man­age­ment style and re­vamp of the pol­icy process that in­volved fewer meet­ings for se­nior of­fi­cials to air their views.

Of­fi­cials said a pol­icy process that doesn’t cre­ate new com­pet­ing fac­tions would be wel­come, par­tic­u­larly by act­ing White House chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney.

The po­si­tion of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser does not re­quire Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

O’Brien was a found­ing part­ner of a Los An­ge­les law firm and has also served in U.S. gov­ern­ment roles fo­cus­ing on Afghanista­n and the Mid­dle East.

O’Brien has praised Trump for hav­ing “un­par­al­leled suc­cess” in bring­ing home hostages, though O’Brien’s July ap­pear­ance in Swe­den to mon­i­tor the trial of rap­per A$AP Rocky raised eye­brows as crit­ics as­sailed Trump for what they viewed as an in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ven­tion in an al­lied na­tion’s le­gal mat­ters.

O’Brien’s prior work with the State Depart­ment in­cluded serv­ing as co-chair­man of its Pub­licPri­vate Part­ner­ship for Jus­tice Re­form in Afghanista­n from 2007 to 2011. His law firm’s web­site notes that he served un­der two sec­re­taries of state, Con­doleezza Rice in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial was among those who praised O’Brien’s ap­point­ment.

“All I have to say is that @robert­co­brien is a re­ally, re­ally good per­son and that I wish him all the best in what will cer­tainly be a chal­leng­ing role,” tweeted An­drew Exum, a for­mer deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for Mid­dle East pol­icy.

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Robert O’Brien will be Pres­i­dent Trump’s fourth na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in over 21⁄2 years.

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