Thomas E. Donilon

Distinguished Fellow

Profile picture

Expert Bio

Thomas E. Donilon is chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute. He served as national security advisor to President Barack Obama. In that capacity, he oversaw the U.S. National Security Council staff, chaired the cabinet-level National Security Principals Committee, provided the president’s daily national security briefing, and coordinated and integrated of the administration’s foreign policy, intelligence, and military efforts. Mr. Donilon also oversaw the White House’s cybersecurity and international energy efforts. He served as the president’s personal emissary to a number of world leaders.

Mr. Donilon previously served as assistant to the president and principal deputy national security advisor. In that role, he managed the U.S. government’s national security policy development and crisis management process. He chaired the Obama-Biden transition at the U.S. Department of State. During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Mr. Donilon headed President Obama’s general election debate preparation effort.

Mr. Donilon chaired the Presidential Commission to Enhance National Cybersecurity and serves as co-chair of the Foreign Policy Advisory Board at the U.S. State Department and a member of the Defense Policy Board. He is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a nonresident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is a member of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy Advisory Board, the Aspen Strategy Group, the Brookings Institution board of trustees, and the Trilateral Commission. He has participated in and led numerous policy groups, including co-chairing the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on Noncommunicable Diseases with former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Mr. Donilon has worked with and advised three U.S. presidents since his first position at the White House in 1977 working with President Jimmy Carter. He served as assistant secretary of state and chief of staff at the U.S. Department of State during the Bill Clinton administration. In that capacity, Mr. Donilon was responsible for developing and implementing the department’s major policy initiatives, including NATO expansion, the Dayton Peace Accords, and the Middle East peace process. He has received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award, and the CIA’s Director’s Award.

Mr. Donilon received his undergraduate degree from Catholic University and his law degree from the University of Virginia. He lives in Washington, DC, with his spouse, Ambassador Cathy Russell. Ambassador Russell was U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues at the State Department from 2013 to 2017 and currently serves as UNICEF’s executive director.

Clear All

Top Stories on CFR


Israel has made eliminating the threat from the Gaza-based militant group a central war aim, but it’s not entirely clear at what point that condition will be met.  


Outright seizure of the Russian Central Bank’s hundreds of billions in frozen assets is currently off the table, but it is still possible to obtain large sums for Ukraine from the interest income on these assets.