Controversial White House aide Sebastian Gorka appears poised for a more visible role promoting President Trump’s agenda — despite unanswered questions about his ties to far-right anti-Semitic and racist groups in Hungary.
Once relegated to right-wing media outlets, Gorka has recently made prominent appearances on such prime-time mainstream cable news shows as “360 With Anderson Cooper,” and “MSNBC Live” with Stephanie Ruhle.
Gorka sparred angrily with the hosts on topics ranging from the Russia meddling scandal to Trump’s failed Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton — but encountered no questions about his own background.
“I’ve been watching with growing anger his increasing prominence,” said New York Democrate Jerrold Nadler, who led a so-far-unsuccessful push to get the White House to fire Gorka. He denounced the media and others for “normalizing” Gorka’s place at the pinnacle of the government.
CNN did not respond to questions asking why the cable channel didn’t raise the issue of Gorka’s background. Gorka himself did not respond to a series of questions emailed to him for this story.
With the departure of Sean Spicer as the president’s press secretary, Gorka may now assume an even more visible role. According to The New York Times, Trump is considering making Gorka part of a rotation of administration officials who would take turns presiding over the White House daily press briefing along with newly minted Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“To talk about normalizing his presence through increasing his public profile is to define deviancy downward,” Nadler said.
Gorka’s newfound prominence comes as authorities show no signs of addressing questions about his citizenship and other issues related to Gorka’s far-right ties.
The Department of Homeland Security has yet to decide whether to launch a probe into Gorka nearly six months after three U.S. senators demanded that it “immediately investigate” Gorka’s visa and citizenship papers.
“The Department is still reviewing the matter,” wrote David Lapan, a Homeland Security spokesman, pointing to a May 8 letter to Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ben Cardin of Maryland. The senators haven’t even gotten a response to a similar letter sent to the Justice Department.
Durbin pronounced himself “encouraged” by Homeland Security’s “commitment to look into our request,” but added, “I remain deeply distressed that Dr. Gorka continues to be a close member of President Trump’s inner circle.”
The senators’ request for an investigation followed a series of reports in the Forward on Gorka’s ties to far-right groups in Hungary, including the Vitézi Rend, an honorary order listed by the State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II.” Members of the group “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Applicants for U.S. visas and American citizenship are required to list all the organizations to which they belong, which helps immigration officials flag those with extremist backgrounds. In their letter to Homeland Security and the Justice Department, Durbin, Cardin and Blumenthal asked the administration to look into whether Gorka had “falsified his naturalization application.”
Meanwhile, it’s still unclear whether Gorka, whose is supposed to advise President Trump on counterterrorism, has been able to obtain the security clearances necessary to participate in sensitive meetings where terrorism issues are discussed. Neither the White House nor Gorka has responded to inquiries about these reports.
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.