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Who Is Robert O’Brien? What to Know About Trump’s New National Security Adviser

September 18, 2019, 6:00 PM UTC

Just who is Robert C. O’Brien, the U.S. hostage negotiator selected Wednesday to replace John Bolton as President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser?

O’Brien, who according to former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders apparently called Trump “the greatest hostage negotiator” in U.S. history in April, has been a foreign policy adviser to the campaigns of former GOP presidential candidates, including the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Since May 2018, O’Brien served as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department. He was involved with helping free hip-hop star A$AP Rocky from a Swedish prison last month. The New York rapper was charged with assault fighting while on tour in Stockholm in June.

“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Trump, alongside O’Brien, later told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday that his new NSA is “highly respected.” Trump said he consulted with a lot of people about the post and that O’Brien was their “absolute number one” choice. 

“We have very good chemistry together and I think we’re going to have a great relationship,” Trump said. “He is a very talented man.” 

Trump further praised O’Brien in his past role as a hostage negotiator. O’Brien is a former representative to the United Nations General Assembly and a former co-chairman of the Department of State’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan under Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton, and a former Major in the U.S. Army Reserve.

As Trump’s fourth NSA in three years, O’Brien will likely oversee ongoing problems in the Middle East. They include increased sanctions on Iran following a recent attack on Saudi oil fields that the Trump administration has blamed on Iran. There is also Trump trying to seek peace with longtime rivals the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

O’Brien’s appointment also comes a week after Trump fired outspoken former NSA adviser John Bolton, citing disagreements on several fronts, including how to handle Iran and Afghanistan, “as did others in the administration.” Bolton joined an extensive list of cabinet members who were either let go by Trump or decided to leave on their own during the president’s first term in office.

Also speaking to reporters Wednesday in L.A., O’Brien, who is a lawyer licensed in California, said he welcomes working closely with Trump in his new NSA role. O’Brien added that he expects the U.S. to continue having “tremendous foreign policy successes,” under Trump’s leadership.

And, O’Brien also repeatedly said that he will practice “peace through strength,” a recurring theme from his 2016 book, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis.” 

“We’ve got a number of challenges, but there’s a great team in place with (secretary of state Mike) Pompeo, (Treasury Secretary Steven) Mnuchin, and others,” O’Brien said. “I look forward to working with them, and the president to keep America safe…from the many challenges around the world today.”

Romney, now a senator in Utah, gave O’Brien a congratulatory tweet on Wednesday.

“Congratulations to my friend Robert O’Brien, who the President has appointed to serve as National Security Advisor,” Romney said. “As the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, he has doggedly pursued the release of American hostages abroad. He is a man of the highest integrity.”

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