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Trump Announces Robert C. O'Brien As New National Security Adviser


President Trump has announced a new national security adviser replacing John Bolton, who was ousted last week. It's Robert O'Brien, a State Department official who has been responsible for negotiating the release of American hostages.

And let's talk about this with NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, who is with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.


GREENE: So who is Robert O'Brien? And, I guess, what does this choice say about the president's national security approach going forward?

RASCOE: Well, this is a State Department official. In the past, he's been a lawyer. He has a lot of legal experience. And he did some work during the George W. Bush administration. But this is a low-profile pick. And that could be a bit of an indicator of the position that the national security adviser is going to have in this administration now. It could be a bit of a reduced role.

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President Trump has made clear that he has the final say on foreign policy, and he likes to drive the car when it comes to foreign policy. Here he is last week after he talked about letting go of his last national security adviser, John Bolton.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's great because it's a lot of fun to work with Donald Trump. And it's very easy, actually, to work me. You know why it's easy? Because I make all the decisions. They don't have to work.

RASCOE: So that was him basically saying, this is why it would be great to be my national security adviser because I'll do all the work. So he has made clear he's the person. And that could mean that this role might not be as - have as high a profile now.

GREENE: Well, whoever is doing the work, I mean, this has been like a revolving door of national security advisers, hasn't it?

RASCOE: It has. I mean, this will be the fourth national security adviser in less than three years. When we talked about Bolton being let go, part of that issue was - there was just a clash because Bolton was more of a hawk. He wanted to be more aggressive on certain issues when it came to Iran, North Korea. And Trump didn't like that.

And then before Bolton, you had General H.R. McMaster who was the national security adviser. And the issue with him - it was kind of like a clash of styles. Essentially, there were reports that Trump felt that McMaster would be lecturing to him and maybe talking down to him. He didn't like that.

And obviously, the first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had some legal issues and had to step down. So it has been very much a revolving door. And there's been a lot of turnover in this area.

GREENE: Turnover in what has been, you know, an incredibly busy time in foreign policy. I mean, it's always - there's always a lot on - in the portfolio of a national security adviser. But O'Brien's coming in with a lot on his plate.

RASCOE: And top of the list will be Iran. The president just tweeted this morning that he wants even more sanctions on Iran after what happened with Saudi Arabia. There has been - the U.S. has said that maybe it was Iran that was behind that attack on those oil facilities.

And so the question is, what does the U.S. do next? And you have, also, North Korea and what to do there. That was a big point of dispute between Bolton and Trump. And so as a national security adviser, this is what O'Brien will have to contend with - how does the U.S. move ahead on these issues?

GREENE: OK. So O'Brien, we know, experienced in negotiating the release of hostages. You said this is sort of a low-profile pick compared to others. What else should we know about him?

RASCOE: Well, so I talked to someone who knows O'Brien a bit. And he said that he has a razor-sharp mind, but he also has a diplomatic demeanor. And that may mean that he's a little bit less aggressive, less in your face, which is what Bolton was kind of known for. And he may - it also may mean that he's more comfortable taking a lower profile. Bolton was used to getting a lot of attention on Fox News and elsewhere. So this may be a better fit for President Trump, who likes for his staff to be kind of low profile.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.