Robert O’Brien, new Trump adviser, helped free A$AP Rocky. Who is he?
Published 5:02 PM EDT Sep 18, 2019
WASHINGTON – Robert O’Brien, the new White House national security adviser, played a pivotal role in the release of rapper A$AP Rocky from Swedish custody over the summer. Here’s what you need to know about President Donald Trump’s newest senior aide:
A$AP Rocky negotiation
In July, American rapper A$AP Rocky, 30, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, made international headlines after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old man in a street brawl in Stockholm. Trump intervened, sending O’Brien, a special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, to win the rapper’s release from a Swedish jail.
A$AP Rocky’s presidential intervention: Why Trump loves to hate Sweden
A judge released A$AP Rocky, pending an outcome in the case, and a court found him guilty in August. The rapper was ordered to pay damages but did not have to spend any additional time in jail.
‘Peace through strength’
O’Brien’s worldview may be found in his 2016 collection of essays, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis,” in which he sharply criticized the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy.
In an online description of the book, O’Brien advocates for a “peace through strength” strategy “that will allow the next president to make America great again.”
O’Brien steps into the role as Trump’s fourth national security adviser and will take on several global disputes, including rising tensions with Iran, an escalating trade war with China and potential new talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.
The high-profile release of A$AP Rocky is not O’Brien’s only success. The Los Angeles lawyer helped extricate Americans from Turkey and Iran. He played a key role in the release of Danny Burch, an American held in Yemen, this year. Burch was working for an oil company in Yemen when he was kidnapped by gunmen in the capital city of Sanaa in 2017, his family told The New York Times.
American held hostage in Yemen freed: Trump says U.S. citizen Danny Burch returned to family
He helped secure the release in 2018 of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey for two years and accused of plotting to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Brunson, who lived in Turkey for more than two decades, rejected the allegations. The case caused a rift between the two countries, leading Trump to slap sanctions and tariffs on Turkey to pressure Erdogan over Brunson’s release.
His background as a negotiator is a contrast to the bombastic John Bolton, who clashed with Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before he was ousted as national security adviser.
O’Brien praised Trump during a meeting with Brunson and Vice President Mike Pence in March.
“This wouldn’t happen with all of these hostages and detainees without the support of the president,” O’Brien said during the Oval Office meeting. “The president has had unparalleled success in bringing Americans home without paying concessions, without prisoner exchanges, but through force of will and the goodwill that he’s generated around the world.”
Advised Mitt Romney in 2012
O’Brien served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential bid as well as for former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2016.
He has extensive experience in national security and diplomacy, working under Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton as the co-chairman of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. The partnership focused on training Afghan judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.
He was appointed by George W. Bush as a U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly in 2005, where he worked with Bolton, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., commended the president on his pick despite a tussle over Trump’s approach to Iran after Tehran downed a U.S. surveillance drone in June.
“He understands the world for the dangerous place it is,” Graham said of O’Brien on Wednesday. “He’s got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator, and I think he’ll be a very sound policy adviser to the president.”
Sen. Cruz, whom O’Brien advised in his 2016 presidential bid, released a statement calling him “exceptionally qualified.”
“I am confident he will advance our national security during this time of heightened global tension, when enemies like Iran and rivals such as Russia and China are challenging us with new dangers, and I look forward to working with him in confronting those dangers,” Cruz said.