Former La Cañada Flintridge resident Robert C. O’Brien made waves locally on Wednesday after being named President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, taking over the post for recently-fired John Bolton.
The news coincided with Trump’s ongoing visit to California, when he tweeted the announcement and held an informal press conference with O’Brien on the Los Angeles International Airport tarmac.
O’Brien had been serving as special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, to which he was appointed by Trump in 2018. In that position, he led U.S. efforts to negotiate the return of citizens held by foreign governments, and also was tasked with maintaining a dialogue with the families of hostages in coordination with the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.
“I am pleased to announce that I will name Robert C. O’Brien, currently serving as the very successful Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department, as our new National Security Advisor. I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Trump tweeted.
Although O’Brien and wife Lo-Mari currently reside in Pasadena, they lived in LCF for nearly two decades, and their children — son Robert and daughters Margaret and Lauren — attended local schools, including La Cañada Elementary School and La Cañada High School. Robert died in a pool accident in 2015.
Local residents were quick to praise O’Brien’s appointment and his demeanor as deserving of the highly demanding job.
“He is very impressive, very knowledgeable and level-headed, and I personally feel comforted to know he’ll be having that kind of input at the highest levels, given everything going on in the world right now,” said City Councilman Greg Brown, who’s known O’Brien and his family for decades. “I think he’s an excellent choice. I’m thrilled!
“It’s certainly not an easy job … his family will have to be very understanding,” Brown added.
O’Brien’s experience in the federal government dates to 2005, when he was appointed by President George W. Bush as the U.S.’ alternate representative to the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, serving with then-U.N. Ambassador Bolton. Previously, O’Brien also served as the senior legal officer for the U.N. Security Council commission that decided claims against Iraq that originated from the first Gulf War.
Local resident Dennis Ballard also noted how proud he is to consider O’Brien a family friend, noting that O’Brien has always maintained time to be a Sunday school teacher at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in LCF.
“I feel safer because of him in this new position — it makes us all feel very good,” he said. “He’s very intuitive and very calm under fire. I think everyone is going to love him, on both sides.”
Al Restivo, who was president of the LCF Republican Club for nearly 20 years, recalled that O’Brien came to one of the club’s meetings when his daughter, Margaret, had joined the Young Republican Club while she was in high school.
“As a La Cañada resident I’m very proud that President Trump chose him for this position,” Restivo said. “My recollection of him is that he was a very nice gentleman.”
O’Brien, who attained the rank of major in the U.S. Army Reserve, also served as co-chairman of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan during both the Bush and Obama administrations. In this role he worked to train Afghan judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers in an effort to promote the rule of law. Bush later appointed O’Brien to the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which advises the federal government about the trafficking of antiquities and other items of cultural significance. He served in this role from 2008-11.
O’Brien is a Los Angeles native who graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in political science. He then earned a law degree from UC Berkeley. In his L.A.-based private practice, Larson O’Brien LLP, he has focused on litigation and international arbitration. He has served as an arbitrator in more than 20 international proceedings in addition to being appointed by federal courts as special master in several cases.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said, via tweet, how pleased he is with O’Brien’s appointment.
“To keep America safe we must lead from a posture of strength. If anyone understands that, it’s Robert. You’ve led State’s high-impact efforts to return American hostages home with great effect. Congratulations and I look forward to working with you in your new role at @WHNSC.”