Dec 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: O'Brien takes wife on COVID-era tour of Europe

Robert O'Brien

Robert O'Brien speaks during a visit to Brazil in October. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

National security adviser Robert O'Brien is taking his wife on a holiday tour of the romantic Mediterranean and European capitals, including seeking a private tour of the Louvre despite it being closed because of coronavirus restrictions, people familiar with the trip tell Axios.

Why it matters: The White House announced the Paris stop shortly after an inquiry from Axios, but the entirety of the trip — which also includes stops in Tel Aviv, Rome and London — is causing consternation among O'Brien's hosts and questions about the need for his wife to tag along.

The White House announced Sunday that O'Brien would be traveling to Paris on Monday to lead a U.S. delegation to the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Convention. The release did not detail that O'Brien's wife, Lo-Mari, would be joining him.

  • “While we don’t comment on spousal travel on specific trips, anytime Ambassador O’Brien has his wife on official trips, any associated costs for her travel are paid for by Ambassador O’Brien and there is no additional cost to taxpayers," National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot told Axios.
  • An OECD release said many of the other event participants would speak virtually, due to COVID-19 fears. O'Brien is slotted to speak on behalf of the United States among heads of state including Angela Merkel of Germany and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. French President Emmanuel Macron will appear in person.

One overseas diplomat told Axios the spousal travel is disheartening because government employees have to shepherd the visitors, and every additional person is a COVID-19 risk.

  • The average American currently is banned from traveling to France. Those already there are supposed to leave their homes only for work or grocery shopping. On Tuesday, the day O'Brien leaves Paris, the country begins an 8 p.m. curfew.
  • The visit also comes as the U.S. government faces a potential Dec. 18 shutdown, and as the Trump administration has under 40 days remaining in its term.

Flashback: Governments in Budapest, London and Paris, as well as U.S. diplomats, expressed alarm this fall after the State Department's director of policy planning tested positive for COVID-19 following his own in-person visit to Europe.

Editor's note: Corrects that O'Brien will address OSCE meeting on Monday, instead of Tuesday.

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