President Trump’s top counter-terrorism advisor, Sebastian Gorka, may soon be out.
That’s the latest leak from the White House about the controversial deputy assistant to the president whose alleged lack of professional qualifications and past ties to anti-Semitic and racist groups in Hungary have made him a lightning rod.
According to a story posted late Friday afternoon by The Daily Beast, the administration is now “actively exploring options” to remove Gorka from the White House and place him at another federal agency. In the story, sourced to two unnamed administration officials, Gorka’s departure is described by one of those sources as “imminent.”
A third source told Daily Beast staff writer Lachlan Markay that Gorka has been excluded from day-to-day policy making at the National Security Council due to his lack of a security clearance. The security clearance issue prevents him from sitting in on national security meetings, a former Obama administration official in touch with staff still working there, told Markay. This “leaves him without much to do all day,” he said.
Nevertheless, “the president really likes him and appreciates him as a good spokesperson for the administration,” a senior administration official said of Gorka. And this may yet save his job. No decision has yet been finalized. “But he isn’t part of the NSC policy making process,” this official said.
As disclosed in a series of articles in the Forward, Gorka, who immigrated to America in 2008 and became a U.S. citizen only in 2012, was an aspiring politician in Hungary, where he partnered with numerous anti-Semitic individuals and organizations.
Leaders of a far-right honor society in Hungary known as the Vitézi Rend, have told the Forward that Gorka took a lifelong oath of loyalty to its order. The group is on a State Department “watch list” for having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during the Second World War. Gorka’s affiliation was reportedly with a modern-day offshoot of the group, known as the Historical Vitézi Rend. The White House aide denied any tie to the group in one interview but said in another that he had “inherited” his status as one of its members via his father, adding, “but I never swore allegiance formally.” A formal statement he issued through the White House press office in response to the Forward’s report contained no denial of the affiliation.
Gorka himself is not known to have engaged in any anti-Semitic actions or made any anti-Semitic public statements. But he has declined to respond to questions from the Forward and other news outlets about whether he disclosed his alleged affiliation with the Vitézi Rend to U.S. officials when he applied for a U.S. visa or for his U.S. citizenship, as he would have been required to do.
Meanwhile, Gorka’s expertise as a counter-terrorism consultant has also been widely questioned. Critics in this field have characterized his policy stands, which views Islam itself as predisposed to violence, as ill informed. And though he claims a PhD from Covinus University in Budapest, with a doctoral thesis on terrorism, two of his three dissertation reviewers had only bachelor degrees themselves—a flaw that would disqualify approval of the work in the United States.
“His apparent inability to participate in high-level policy discussions means keeping him on requires weathering bad press without any real upside,” The Daily Beast noted.
The news outlet reported that when reached by phone for comment, Gorka requested he be sent questions via email, but did not respond to any of the questions when this was done.
Larry Cohler-Esses is the Forward’s senior investigative writer. He joined the staff in December 2008. Previously, he served as Editor-at-Large for the Jewish Week, an investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, and as a staff writer for the Jewish Week as well as the Washington Jewish Week. Larry has written extensively on the Arab-Jewish relations both in the United States and the Middle East. His articles have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists, the Religious Newswriters Association, the New York Press Association and the Rockower Awards for Jewish Journalism, among others. Larry Cohler-Esses can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.