Trump national security adviser says president will respect results of election

By Daniel Lippman
·5 min read

BATH, Maine — Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said Wednesday that Trump would accept the results of the election if he loses on Nov. 3.

“If he loses, of course he will,” he said in an interview with POLITICO on a trip to visit two naval shipyards in Maine. Such a question has become a hot topic in Washington because, until recently, Trump has muddied the waters on whether he would let a peaceful transfer of power happen if he loses in less than two weeks.

“If he loses the election, I’m certain the president will transfer power over, but we’ve got to make sure there’s no fraud in the election and we need to make sure it’s a free and fair election, just like we demand of other countries overseas, we need to make the demand of ourselves,” O’Brien added.

He also said he thought that the initial question that kicked off the controversy over whether Trump would commit to a peaceful transfer of power was “silly” because the reporter didn’t preface it with the qualification that the transfer would happen only if Trump lost.

Aasked whether he was confident Trump would win reelection, O’Brien demurred, saying, instead, he “hope he wins reelection,” pointing to Trump’s “unparalleled” foreign policy record and saying the administration has done more on foreign policy issues in the past year than most administrations have done in two terms. Such accomplishments, he said, include NATO allies committing to spending an extra $400 billion on defense over the next 10 years, deterring Iran by killing the leader of the Quds force, and bringing home dozens of Americans held hostage or detained overseas.

“What I believe is he should win. We’re a democracy, we’ll have to see what happens,” he said. “I’ve watched the rallies and people are pretty excited, but I’m not commenting from a political standpoint, but I think he has a lot of support out there and we’re certainly hoping for the best.”

Asked whether it was appropriate for Trump to have urged Attorney General William Barr to investigate Democratic opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter, O’Brien declined to say but referred questions to Barr and Trump and said he didn’t know enough about the issue.

“I’m unaware of any pressure from the president,” he said.

O’Brien also said the U.S. could level sanctions against Turkey over the S-400 air defense missile system that the country bought from Russia. Turkey reportedly tested the system last week, but the administration has not sanctioned the country as required under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, part of which goes after countries that do military business with Russia.

O’Brien said that within the U.S. government there are “a number of policy processes that are going on with Turkey,” including those related to the S-400, and that the administration will follow the law. The administration has already blocked Turkey from buying the F-35 fighter jet.

“There may come a time when there are sanctions on Turkey because of different conduct, whether it’s the S-400 or otherwise,” he said. “We’d like to avoid that if we could. We’d like to see Turkey do some things differently.”

“Turkey is a major country, and they’re a NATO ally, and we want to try and get this right, but Turkey’s not making it easy, given some of the things that they’ve been up to,” he added.

O’Brien, interviewed while eating pizza at a restaurant in Bath, Maine, defended himself against criticism that’s circulated in Washington for traveling to swing states like New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin in recent weeks just before the election, given that he holds a nonpolitical job. He said that some of those states are “on the front lines of our defense industrial base.”

“They deserve to hear about the president’s national security policies and our foreign policy successes just as much as the Washington think tank class,” he said. “The only people I’ve heard criticize a trip outside of Washington are people in the establishment, in the think tanks that get to hear from me or Secretary Pompeo or Secretary Esper on a regular basis,” referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

While Trump once criticized former President Barack Obama for telegraphing some military actions beforehand, O’Brien said the troop drawdown in Afghanistan is different because the U.S. reached a deal with the Taliban where they’ve agreed not to attack American troops, although they continue to kill their Afghan brethren.

O’Brien said that if the Taliban don’t live up to their obligations as part of the peace deal, “they understand there will be strong and swift response from the United States, but for now this is what they’ve agreed to.” He noted that the U.S. hasn’t had a combat death in Afghanistan since the deal was signed.

Asked about the dispute with the Pentagon over how many troops to withdraw and how quickly, he said: “The military’s not a separate branch of government” and “they don’t have an Afghanistan policy that’s different from the administration’s policy.”

“The president is the commander in chief, and he has a policy on Afghanistan,” he said.

The national security adviser also called the preliminary deal that was recently reached between the U.S. and Russia to extend the New START arms control treaty a “very significant step forward,” but said it could take “a week, a month” or even “a year” to actually finalize such a deal.

“But I think we’ve made progress, and I appreciate how the Russians have come closer to our position, and we’ll see if we can close it,” he said.