President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser Tom Donilon is resigning and will be replaced by U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, marking a significant shakeup to the White House foreign policy team. Controversial Obama foreign policy confidant Samantha Power will replace Rice at the U.N.
A White House official confirmed the personnel changes Wednesday morning ahead of a planned announcement by the president later in the day.
Donilon has been a key foreign policy adviser to Obama since he first took office. But the 58-year-old had been expected to depart sometime this year, with Rice seen as the likely candidate to replace him.
Rice — the face of the Benghazi talking points controversy who appeared on the Sunday shows days after the Libya attack and blamed the incident on a YouTube video — is the second official involved in the incident to receive a promotion. Last month, State Department spokesowman Victoria Nuland was nominated as assistant secretary of state.
The New York Times called the move “a defiant gesture to Republicans who harshly criticized Ms. Rice for presenting an erroneous account of the deadly attacks on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya.”
Rice, a close Obama confidante, came under withering criticism from Republicans as part of the investigations into the deadly attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama considered nominating Rice as his second-term secretary of state, but she withdrew amid the GOP criticism, saying she didn’t want her confirmation fight to be a distraction for the White House. The president instead nominated John Kerry, who easily won confirmation from his former Senate colleagues.
Rice’s new post as national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.
Obama will also name Samantha Power, a human rights expert and former White House adviser, to replace Rice as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Power left the White House earlier this year, though she was considered the president’s likely pick to move to the U.N. should Rice be promoted to the White House.
She has long been connected to Obama and during the president’s first campaign was in line for a top post. But that changed after she had to resign from Obama’s campaign in 2008 following an interview where she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.”
Power is an ardent defender of interventionist policies especially when it comes to genocide. Her policy, dubbed “responsibility to protect,” has informed Obama decisions from early on.
Previously, Politico reports, she “served as an aide at the National Security Council as the senior director for multilateral affairs and was named chair of the Atrocities Prevention Board that Obama created last year.”
She is also the wife of former regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, and there are many who have raised issues with her foreign policy. Glenn Beck once said she was probably the most dangerous woman in America, while Sean Hannity named her one of the top 10 most dangerous people in the Obama administration.
The White House official said Donilon is expected to stay on the job until early July, after Obama wraps up overseas trips to Europe and Africa, as well as an unusual summit in California later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the personnel changes before they were publicly announced.
Donilon has overseen a foreign policy agenda at the White House that put increased emphasis on the U.S. relationship with Asia. He’s also played a key role in the administration’s counterterrorism strategy, including the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, and in managing the complex U.S. ties with Russia.
Rice, who first started working for Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, has a close relationship with the president and many of his advisers. She’s known for being outspoken on human rights issues and also pushed for a more interventionist strategy in Libya.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This is a breaking story. Updates will be added.