Is Robert O’Brien “breaking with his boss” in this interview with Steve Clemons, as MSNBC frames it? Is Donald Trump’s national security adviser “trying to do some reputation retcon,” as the Daily Beast’s Noah Schachtman claims? YMMV, but O’Brien does appear to be the highest-ranking Trump administration official to describe the election results as “obviously” pointing to a transition to a Joe Biden administration:
NEW: NSA O'Brien says, "If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner, and … obviously things look that way now, we'll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council." pic.twitter.com/jZnVIrroDc
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 16, 2020
Speaking to the Global Security Forum hosted in part by Qatar, Robert O’Brien several times mentioned the transition and referred to recent peace deals that Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates struck with Israel as “a great legacy for the president to have as he leaves office.”
While caveating that Trump did have outstanding court challenges, O’Brien’s comments signaled some of the firmest statements yet from a senior administration official acknowledging Biden’s win in the Nov. 3 vote.
“If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner — obviously things look that way now — we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council. There’s no question about it,” O’Brien said. “They’re going to have very professional folks coming in to take these positions.”
He added: “We’ve passed the baton and had peaceful, successful transitions even in the most contentious periods.”
This stands in contrast to other members of Trump’s team. Mike Pompeo joked last week that they would successfully transition to a second Trump term. Peter Navarro made the claim less humorously, insisting that the White House had already begun its second-term planning. Others may have been more quiet about describing the election results, but none has gone as far as O’Brien has that “obviously things look that way now” in terms of a Biden win.
The highest-ranking official still claims otherwise, of course:
And Trump is going after Republicans who take a firmer opposing position:
LATEST: Pres. Trump is targeting Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Twitter after the governor acknowledged Joe Biden as the president-elect over the weekend and urged Trump to work with the transition. https://t.co/BcfcxZhwG4 pic.twitter.com/1ITwlIKrhq
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) November 16, 2020
What makes O’Brien’s position more interesting — besides his boss’ denial of the “obviously” disfavorable results — is that he was reportedly singing a different tune last week. Allahpundit points me to this Schachtman report from Thursday that Biden was getting the He Who Shall Not Be Named treatment in O’Brien’s office:
President Donald Trump continues to refuse to cede the election. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is enabling the mayhem, four senior officials told The Daily Beast.
O’Brien—once viewed as a potential check on Trump’s erratic national security demands—endorsed the installation of a pair of Trumpists at the Pentagon’s highest levels, while a defense secretary O’Brien has long opposed was fired by tweet.
One official claimed that O’Brien has been supportive of a peaceful transfer of power, joking in a Monday event about Trump’s loss and directing his staff to begin drafting transition materials. But three other officials told The Daily Beast that O’Brien has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest enablers at a decisive moment, supporting the president’s bid to retain power even though it is being waged through a nationwide disinformation campaign. …
Other officials familiar with the matter noted that O’Brien has also pushed national security officials to publicly embrace the absurd Trump message that the election has not been certified and that there are still legal battles playing out across the country that could turn in the president’s favor.
“If you even mention Biden’s name… that’s a no-go, you’d be fired,” one national security official said. “Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition.”
Hence Schachtman’s reputation-retcon comment this morning. Assuming that the earlier report was accurate, O’Brien’s done a fairly significant 180 on the election results in a short period of time. Is that because of a desire for reputation retconning, or is it the result of the failure of multiple attempts to challenge the election results in court — including the failure to substantiate any of the larger claims Trump has made on social media?
O’Brien’s comments today aren’t definitive, but they’re certainly helpful in keeping perspective. The big question now will be whether Trump fires O’Brien, or at least goes after him on Twitter. If not, perhaps other admin officials will start tipping their hats to the reality that “obviously things look that way now.”
Update: Flipped the headline and the subheadline.