Donald Trump taps hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien to replace Bolton
David Jackson and Deirdre Shesgreen
Published 10:36 AM EDT Sep 18, 2019
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will name State Department hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien as his new national security adviser, a low-key pick to replace the more volatile John Bolton.
O’Brien is currently Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department. In that role, he has led the administration’s efforts to secure the release of Americans held by hostile foreign governments or other powers.
Most recently, Trump dispatched O’Brien to Sweden during the trial of rapper ASAP Rocky, a controversial decision given that American music star was not a hostage but instead was accused of assaulting a man in Stockholm.
“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!,” Trump wrote in a tweet.
Bolton was dismissed as Trump’s national security adviser on Sept. 10. The president said the two “disagreed strongly” on foreign policy matters.
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In addition to stylistic differences, Trump and Bolton clashed over approaches to foreign policy challenges ranging from Iran and Venezuela to North Korea.
Critics said the selection of the little-known O’Brien to such a high-profile post reflects a downgrade of the position. They also said the appointment increases the influence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was O’Brien’s boss.
“Trump, after enduring the Bolton experience, clearly has no use for a strong personality or ideologue in the National Security Adviser position,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama.
Noting that Trump considered having Pompeo take over the national security adviser’s job, Price added: “Pompeo may not be dual-hatted as Secretary of State and NSA, but he might as well be with this arrangement.”
Others praised O’Brien in his own right.
“He understands the world for the dangerous place it is,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “He’s got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator, and I think he’ll be a very sound policy adviser to the president.”
O’Brien served in other roles at the State Department, in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. A former major in the U.S. Army Reserve and a lawyer, O’Brien worked to help train Afghan judges and lawyers in that country’s criminal justice system. O’Brien also served as a U.S. Representative to the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, working with Bolton, who was then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.