Lawmakers pushing for a probe of White House aide Sebastian Gorka say his role in downplaying the danger of white supremacists makes it even more important to quickly investigate whether he lied to gain U.S. citizenship.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said the deadly violence at Charlottesville shows how dangerous it is to have someone so close to the levers of power who has reported links to virulent anti-Semitic groups like Gorka.
“It’s increasingly important to speak out,” said Cardin.
Cardin, along with senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), is pushing for answers from the Trump administration, which appears to be stonewalling their demand for information about any possible probe into Gorka.
In a new letter to the Justice Department, the lawmakers observed that prior to the violence in Charlottesville, Gorka repeatedly rejected the significance of violence by extreme right-wing domestic groups in America. He instead insisted that Muslim jihadist groups were the only real security threat.
On August 9, the senators note, in one of several examples, Gorka told the Breitbart News, “It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t.”
One day earlier, he stated on MSNBC, “There has never been — never been — a serious attack … or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or Al Qaeda, at least through the ideology and…the tactics, the training, the techniques, and the procedures — that they supply through the internet. Never happened. It’s bogus.”
Several analyses have found that domestic right-wing terrorism acts have been more common than acts of Islamist terrorism.
“Gorka’s reported affiliation with an extremist anti-Semitic organization affiliated with the Nazis is of particular public interest in light of the White House’s equivocal response to the violence that the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists perpetrated,” the senators wrote.
Although they first demanded answers about a possible probe of Gorka five months ago, the lawmakers smell blood in the water after the firing last Friday of Stephen Bannon, who was Gorka’s key ally in the White House.
“Bannon, that’s one of his protectors,” Cardin pointed out.
Incoming White House chief of staff John Kelly has said he hopes impose discipline on the fractious White House staff, a move that Cardin believes also might make Gorka more vulnerable.
“(Kelly) will want to make sure there is clear discipline in the messaging, and [Gorka] doesn’t fit into that mold,” Cardin said. “So I think this puts him more in the spotlight.”
In a letter sent late Monday to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, the three senators insisted on knowing if the two agencies were probing whether Gorka, an immigrant, “falsified his naturalization application or otherwise illegally procured American citizenship.”
According to numerous reports, Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Trump, appointed to advise him on terrorism issues, has been unable to obtain a security clearance. The lawmakers suggested that his ties to extremists in Hungary could be one reason why.
“The American people are entitled to know if a senior White House official is under criminal investigation,” the senators wrote.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an email from the Forward asking for comment on the letter.
The lawmakers’ missive comes in response to replies they got to a March 21 letter they sent the two agencies, urging them to investigate Gorka following a story in the Forward. In the March 16 story, leaders of a far right Hungarian nationalist group listed by the U.S. State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II” stated that Gorka was a sworn member of their organization.
Members of the Vitézi Rend, as the group is known, “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the United States, according to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual. Applicants for a U.S. visa and for U.S. citizenship are required to disclose such affiliations on their applications, and knowing failure to do so can lead to government legal action.
In an August 15 reply to the senators’ March letter, the Justice Department stated that the senators’ information had been given to the FBI. Homeland Security wrote on May 8 that it was reviewing the senators’ request and would “take action if warranted.”
“It is unclear why your agencies took months to respond to our letter, since you did not address the only issue we raised: whether Mr. Gorka is under investigation for naturalization fraud,” the senators wrote. The lawmakers gave the agencies a deadline of September 4 to respond to their question.
Durbin, Blumenthal and Cardin did not specify what would happen if the agencies missed this deadline.
“I imagine the deadline is to put as much pressure as possible on the administration,” said one Senate aide who’s been following the issue closely. “They’re trying to put their feet to the fire.”
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.