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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.

Go deeper

Updated 18 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: Unvaccinated kids must wear masks in school this fall — CDC says schools should still universally require masks and physical distancing.
  2. Politics: New York to lift mask mandate for vaccinated people — CDC director says politics didn't play a role in abrupt mask policy shift.
  3. Vaccines: Sanofi, GSK COVID vaccine shows strong immune response in phase 2 trials — Vaccine-hesitant Americans cite inaccurate side effects.
  4. Business: How retailers are responding to the latest CDC guidance — Delta to require all new employees be vaccinated — Target, CVS and other stores ease mask requirements after CDC guidance.
  5. World: Taiwan raises COVID-19 alert level amid surge in cases — Biden administration to send 20 million U.S.-authorized vaccine doses abroad.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated Dec 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. officials prioritized to receive COVID vaccine

UPS employees move shipping containers of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, on Dec. 13. Photo: Michael Clevenger - Pool/Getty Images

Coronavirus vaccinations for U.S. officials across the country's three branches of government have been given top priority, National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said in a statement on Sunday.

Why it matters: There are a limited number of COVID vaccines currently in production, and the CDC recommends that the highest-risk groups — health care workers and long-term care facility residents — should be first in line to get vaccinated.

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.