After Bolton fireworks, Trump picks low-key Robert O'Brien for top job

By Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Matt Spetalnick | Wed, September 18, 2019 12:12 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump picked U.S. hostage negotiator Robert O'Brien on Wednesday as his fourth White House national security adviser, turning to a low-key choice for the position after the boisterous tenure of John Bolton.

O'Brien's selection was a sign of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's clout with the president, with U.S. officials saying Pompeo had made clear he would be happy with either O'Brien or another candidate, former deputy national security adviser Ricky Waddell.

"I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!" Trump said in a tweet.

Aides said Trump had gotten to know O'Brien through his work as the U.S. envoy for hostage negotiations and admired his ability to get hostages returned from North Korea and Turkey.

The job most recently took him to Sweden in a bid to get the American rapper known professionally as A$AP Rocky out of jail on an assault charge.

O'Brien follows in the footsteps of three other national security advisers: Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster and, most recently, Bolton, who clashed with the president over a host of issues from Iran to Afghanistan to North Korea.

Bolton parted ways with Trump a little more than a week ago, his stormy ending coming shortly after he disagreed with the prospect of the president easing some sanctions on Iran, a person close to Bolton said.

For Trump, O'Brien represents a far more low-key figure for the job, a sign that the president was happy to have someone without the television starpower of Bolton.

O'Brien is an attorney from Los Angeles who has served as a foreign policy adviser to several Republican presidential campaigns, handled a number of high-profile legal cases and previously served in several State Department positions, including as an alternative representative to the U.N. General Assembly in 2005.

O'Brien has been a fan of the recently departed Bolton after the two worked together when Bolton was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005 during George W. Bush's presidency.

In a December 2016 column for radio host Hugh Hewitt's website, O'Brien called Bolton "a formidable diplomat and a patriot" in recommending the newly elected Trump pick Bolton for a high-profile assignment.

"John’s job as our man at the UN was never easy, often exhausting and painfully slow at points. But John, the definition of a diplomat, never grew physically tired or ever lost his temper with other diplomats or the mission’s staff," O'Brien wrote.

Trump in March had complimented O'Brien for doing a "fantastic job" after gaining the release of American hostage Danny Burch in Yemen.

People close to the White House said Trump was looking for someone who would manage the national security process, voice opinions behind the scenes but not go public with differences.

One of the most prominent hostage cases on which O’Brien has working is that of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who was abducted in Syria in August 2012 while reporting on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and is believed by the U.S. government to be alive.

Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra Tice, praised what they described as O’Brien’s quiet, dogged efforts to win their son’s release.

“He’s kept us informed and been regularly in touch,” Marc Tice told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Houston home. “With Robert in this new role, Austin’s return can happen even sooner.”

Debra Tice said: "We have high confidence and great expectations and we believe it will mean a lot to have him elevated” to the national security adviser’s post.

Senate Republicans praised Trump's pick.

"He understands the world for the dangerous place it is. He's got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator," Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters. "He'll be a very sound policy adviser."

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)

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