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Robert C. O’Brien, Long Time Colleague of Ambassador John Bolton, on President Trump’s Selection of Bolton for the NSA

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The audio:

03-28hhs-obrien

The transcript:

HH: The news of the morning is that President Donald Trump has tweeted that he received a message last night from Xi Jinping stating that his meeting with Kim Jong Un went very well and that Kim looks forward to meeting with the President. In the meantime, we must unfortunately maintain maximum sanctions and pressure. Against this backdrop, it is time to talk again about Ambassador Bolton, the arrival of Secretary of State-designate Pompeo and Gina Haspel over at the CIA. To talk specifically about how John Bolton will bring strength to the President’s team as they approach North Korea, I am joined by my colleague, Robert O’Brien, longtime friend and colleague of Ambassador John Bolton. Good morning, Robert, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RO’B: Hey, thanks, good to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Would you describe your relationship with John Bolton?

RO’B: You know, I first started working for John when we were at the UN together back in 2005. And we’ve worked on a couple of presidential campaigns since then. And it’s been an honor to serve with him.

HH: Okay, so you know him well, and you and I have entertained him at dinners when he’s been out at California and spent time with him on and off the air. You pointed out to me yesterday that in the blowback to his appointment from the Beltway entrenched foreign policy elite is missed often the fact he is a diplomat’s diplomat.

RO’B: Yeah, John’s incredibly experienced. He’s strategic, and he’s careful. His diplomatic initiatives are always well thought out and executed with skill. And you know, none of that is surprising given that he was a top flight litigator. Folks, and I’m a little bit biased as a lawyer myself, sometimes people fail to realize that John started his career as a lawyer at the Justice Department. He’s practiced law at the highest level. And he brings that same kind of program of researching, understanding the issues, preparing his case and his brief, and then executing it through his diplomatic initiatives. And he’s incredibly effective at that.

HH: And to the idea that he is abrasive, you pointed out to me as we were talking yesterday, that’s why I asked you to come on, that when he arrived at Mission UN, he did something unprecedented regarding the other missions.

RO’B: Yeah, I mean, this whole idea that John is a bomb thrower or you know, abrasive and that sort of thing, just isn’t true. People that talked about that are people who haven’t worked with John or don’t know Ambassador Bolton. I mean, you know, he’s solicitous of his colleagues’ opinions. He values smart employees. But he’s also extremely courteous and well-versed in etiquette and protocol as a diplomat. And going to your question, Hugh, I mean, John would go out and visit diplomats at other missions. He would leave, we call them missions, to other embassies. He would leave the American embassy or mission in New York, and I think he went out to 60 or 70 missions to go visit ambassadors on their home turf. Now up until that time, the U.S. ambassador had always summoned other ambassadors to come to the U.S. mission, and for their meetings, for their audience. John didn’t think that was the right way to execute U.S. foreign policy and to build relationships. And so you know, he showed up at the missions of some small countries that had, to hear the concerns of their ambassador and to explain our position. They’d never seen an American ambassador, you know, at their mission before. And that’s the kind of solicitousness and careful attention to etiquette and protocol that I saw with Ambassador Bolton at the UN.

HH: Yesterday, I pointed out to people a post over at Powerline Blog by Steven Hayward entitled Joltin’ Bolton, and it included in this, this quote. “Amidst all the commentary pro and con about Bolton over the last few days, there’s one detail about him that I hadn’t seen anyone report. One of his biggest fans back in the Reagan administration and subsequently was…James Baker III, yes, the same James Baker that a lot of conservatives never fully trusted. And Bolton fully reciprocates the high regard. John was a useful source of background and insight for understanding Baker when I was writing my Reagan book.” Now I would love to get former Secretary of State Baker on the radio program to talk about John Bolton. He’s one of the great Americans. And his wife is one of my wife’s heroes. But…and I believe my father-in-law may have trained him in basic training in the Marine Corps back in the day when Colonel Helmer was running young Marines like Jim Baker through. But if Jim Baker likes you, what’s that say, Robert O’Brien, about John Bolton?

RO’B: Sure. Well, Secretary Baker was one of the, you know, goes down in history as one of the great American secretaries of State. And it doesn’t surprise me that they have that kind of relationship and respect for each other. And again, keep in mind the similar background. Jim Baker was a, you know, a top notch lawyer at his law firm in Texas, practiced law for many years before going into politics. And I’m sure he saw in John Bolton someone, you know, much like himself, you know, smartest guy in the room. But it’s not just being the smartest guy in the room for either Secretary Baker or for Ambassador Bolton. It’s being the hardest-working guy in the room. They were both incredibly hard-working, incredibly smart. And then a lot of folks forget Ambassador Bolton worked for Secretary Baker during that famous recount in Florida when Jim Baker came to save the election and to ensure that all the votes were properly counted in Florida in 2000 for then-President-Elect Bush. John Bolton was one of the lawyers on his team, you know, helping with that. So they’ve worked together. They’ve got very similar backgrounds. They’re both very smart, very hard-working. And so it’s not surprising that they’ve got a mutual admiration society there.

HH: When John Bolton was nominated for UN ambassador, he was endorsed by Cap Weinberger and 60 other members of the Reagan administration. People forget he was the assistant Attorney General under Ed Meese. He was at USAID. He subsequently served as undersecretary of State, subsequently served as the UN ambassador. The resume is endless indeed, but what worries people, and I want you to kind of elaborate on what this means, is he actually knows how to enforce a presidential decision through his bureaucratic abilities and through the deputies committee. What is it that John Bolton really scares people over?

RO’B: Well, again, and that skill, that capability, you know, to execute the President’s wishes, and that’s why this is such a brilliant pick by President Trump, he’s putting someone in place who’s certainly the most experienced Republican foreign policy hand of our generation. I mean, having served, as you pointed out, at DOJ, USAID, State Department all at the highest levels, having been the UN ambassador, he knows where the levers of power within the bureaucracy are. He works incredibly hard. He learns his brief. I mean, I sat negotiating with, on documents at the UN with Ambassador Bolton late into the evening where the other ambassadors, his counterparts, really had no idea and couldn’t get into the weeds with him on the negotiations, would have to bring in their seconds and thirds to sit down and negotiate with John. He would know his brief, would know what his client, in this case, the president of the United States, wants. And he knows how to get it. And it’s a very impressive skill set that he brings to the national security advisor position, and is going to serve the President well.

HH: Let’s wrap up by talking about the fact the North Korean negotiation is pending. In his book, Surrender Is Not An Option, the details of his dealings with the North Koreans are so elaborate, and he would bring the same thing to the Joint Comprehensive Program of Cooperation, which should be the joint comprehensive program on giveaway. He will execute any deal that comes out of it. I’m skeptical that a deal will. I think the President’s actually going to just lay down the law about what’s going to, the maximum pressure campaign. But if there is a deal, the guy you really want to have negotiate it is Pompeo. But the guy you want to have to make sure it’s checked for every possible escape route is John Bolton.

RO’B: If you’re going to enter into any type of high level negotiation, and we’ve got two very important negotiations that are on the table right now, we’ve got the North Korea summit coming up, and the negotiation regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we’ve got the renegotiation with our European allies of the Iran nuclear deal, which was rank appeasement, nothing more than that. The person, if you’re the president of the United States, that you want sitting on your team to negotiate, the best lawyer in the house, the best foreign policy professional in the house, is John Bolton. He’s going to bring a level of seriousness, experience, depth of knowledge, but also hard-nosed, tough negotiation skills. I mean, you know, the Iranians are very good negotiators. They took us to the cleaners with the Iran deal. The North Koreans have been doing this for many years, and have taken a number of presidents to the cleaners. No one is going to take John Bolton to the cleaners in a negotiation. If you’re President Trump, you know, having Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director on one hand, on one side, and having you know, Ambassador John Bolton, the best lawyer foreign policy hand in America in either party on the other side, that puts you in a very powerful position in those negotiations.

HH: Last question, and we’ve got a minute. I’ve asked Lanhee Chen this, Christian Whiton this, people who know Ambassador Bolton. Would you advise him to land in force like Eisenhower at Normandy or MacArthur going ashore anywhere in the Pacific campaign, or just to arrive and kind of let everyone stay in place? There’s a huge choice he has to make here.

RO’B: Look, John’s eventually going to have to bring his own team in. He, you know, there have been plenty of folks that have held over from the Obama administration that may not support the President’s agenda. But John’s not going to throw a grenade into the National Security Council. He’s going to arrive, he’s going to be professional, he’s going to get to know the career folks who are there, and he’ll ultimately make his own decisions on personnel. But you know, this will be a very orderly and thought out process.

HH: Robert C. O’Brien, thank you for being up early this morning, longtime colleague and friend of John Bolton, the perfect guy to talk to about this. We’ll post this audio and transcript so people can actually know what the real story is about Donald Trump and his new national security team of Pompeo, Mattis and Bolton.

End of interview.

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