Tom returned to the firm in 2014 after serving as National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama. In that capacity Tom oversaw the US National Security Council staff, chaired the cabinet level National Security Principals Committee, provided the president's daily national security briefing, and was responsible for the coordination and integration of the administration's foreign policy, intelligence, and military efforts. Tom also oversaw the White House’s international economics, cybersecurity, and international energy efforts. Tom served as the President’s personal emissary to a number of world leaders.
For a long time, Donilon lived his life from presidential campaign to campaign. The Democratic operative worked on his first Democratic National Convention at 24, and he’s been helping elect candidates ever since. He has worked for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Joseph R. Biden.
He has also served in policy roles, working as assistant secretary of state for public affairs and as former Clinton secretary of State Warren Christopher’s chief of staff. In that role, Donilon was intimately involved in many major foreign policy issues, including negotiating the Bosnian peace agreement and the expansion of NATO.
He was a registered lobbyist from 1999 through 2005, and his sole client was Fannie Mae.
Donilon worked as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team, where he vetted potential State Department officials. He was named deputy national security adviser.
Donilon was born in Providence , R.I. He was inspired to go into politics after reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter S. Thompson in high school. He moved to Washington, D.C., for college, receiving his undergraduate degree from Catholic University in 1977.
He accepted an internship as an aide to President Jimmy Carter and quickly climbed the political ranks. In 1980, at the age of 24, he worked on the Democratic National Convention and helped thwart Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) last-minute bid for the presidential nomination.
Four years later, Donilon helped Carter transition back to private life after he lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan. Four years after that, Donilon was back on the national stage as campaign coordinator for 1984 Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale.
He earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1985 and was a member of the school’s Law Review.
In 1988, Donilon served as one of then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden’s (D-Del.) closest advisers during his presidential campaign. Biden was fresh off a stint as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, where he presided over the most controversial Supreme Court nomination ever by considering Reagan’s nomination (ultimately unsuccessful) of Robert Bork.
As informal campaign adviser, Donilon played a key role in successfully convincing the Senate to defeat Bork’s nomination. When Biden lost his presidential bid after being accused of plagiarism, Donilon became a senior adviser to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign.
In 1991, Donilon joined O’Melveny & Meyers law firm as a partner. He was on the firm’s governing committee and heads its strategic counseling practice. Additionally, he led the firm’s effort to increase its pro-bono work. He was a senior counsel to President Bill Clinton’s transition effort in 1992.
Donilon formally entered a presidential administration in 1993, when he was named chief of staff to secretary of State Warren Christopher. In 1996, he became assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He visited over 50 countries in those positions and worked on several major foreign policy initiatives, including the Balkans peace negotiation, the expansion of NATO and the relationship between the U.S. and China.
In 1999, Donilon accepted an executive vice president position at Fannie Mae. Donilon left Fannie Mae in 2005 and returned to O’Melveny. At the same time, he was chosen as a member of the House and Senate Majority's National Security Advisory Group, which was designed to assess U.S. performance on national security issues and to propose ways to improve it.
Donilon could have worked for the 2008 presidential campaign of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), but instead signed on with Biden’s presidential effort, advising him on Iraq. When Biden dropped out of the 2008 race, Donilon endorsed Obama.
He and Wendy Sherman led the Obama transition team’s State Department efforts. Donilon's wife, Catherine Russell, was named Jill Biden’s chief of staff. Donilon moved into the Obama White House and runs the deputies meetings, where the real policies get drafted.
As a member of the National Security Advisory Group, Donilon helped write a 2006 report that suggested the long Iraq deployment had depleted the Army and Marine Corps’ ability to defend the country. The commission found that not a single non-deployed Army brigade was prepared to fight.
Donilon helped manage the Carter campaign activities at the 1980 Democratic convention, managed Democratic Party activities at the 1984 convention and was the top legal officer for the DNC’s convention selection committee in 1985.
Donilon has built a wide network of Democratic connections over the course of staffing eight presidential campaigns. Donilon worked on Biden’s 2008 campaign with fellow operatives Patrick Caddell, John Martilla and David Doak.
He served on the National Security Advisery Group with Madeleine Albright, Gen. Wesley Clark, John Podesta, Samuel Berger, James Steinberg and Susan Rice. Many of those people went on to top positions in Obama’s administration.
Donilon was part of the tight-knit group that ran Biden’s presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008, along with Larry Rasky, Valerie Biden Owens, Sen. Edward M. Kaufman (D-Del.), John Marttila, Mark Gittenstein, and Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
Donilon’s brother, Mike, has worked for Biden since 1981. He travelled with the senator during his vice presidential campaign and helped him prepare for the vice presidential debate. He will serve as counselor to the vice president.