The Trump administration chose to remain ambiguous regarding counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka’s future on Monday, hoping to strike a balance between a wish to end the controversy surrounding him and a desire to display loyalty to someone who has been close to chief strategist Stephen Bannon for years.
“I have no belief that he is currently leaving the White House at this time,” the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, announced Monday. Spicer’s statement, as well as his claim that there is “no personnel announcement at this time” about Gorka, left some in the administration and on Capitol Hill baffled, since it came only a day after several senior administration officials confirmed to major news outlets that Gorka is on his way out and will be offered another position outside the White House.
Behind this ambiguity could be an attempt by the Trump team to ease Gorka’s departure, which is planned for the summer, and to transition him to another position without having the White House acknowledge Gorka’s controversial past ties and current positions.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, argued that a departure from the White House without addressing the claims against Gorka would be a missed opportunity. “We are still puzzled why Sebastian Gorka never clarified or renounced his alleged ties to right-wing extremist groups in Hungary that espouse anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said. “There were plenty of opportunities for him to clear the air. These groups have a long and clear history of stoking anti-Semitism in Hungary. It would have been nice to hear one unequivocal disavowal.”
But even if Spicer’s comment was simply a show of courtesy to a senior adviser about to loose his position, the idea of shifting or downgrading Gorka without removing him from the Trump administration did not seem to satisfy his critics.
Citing the Forward’s reporting on Gorka’s association with a Nazi-allied organization and other far-right Hungarian groups, New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler made clear that he does not believe moving Gorka to another government agency would be an appropriate response. “His removal from the White House is the correct response, but it is not nearly enough,” Nadler said in a statement. “Employing Mr. Gorka in any role — much less one with national security responsibilities — raises serious questions as to the judgment of President Trump and his administration.” Nadler’s March 16 letter to Trump asking the White House to provide the House Judiciary Committee with Gorka’s immigration papers has gone unanswered.
According to a Democratic staffer, several other members of Congress intend to issue a similar call for Gorka’s full dismissal this week.
Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a progressive Jewish organization that has been calling for Gorka’s firing, said Trump’s intention to remove Gorka from the White House while offering him another government position was a “partial victory” and that Trump “must remove Gorka, along with all other white nationalist extremists such as Bannon, from government service entirely.”
Politically conservative Jewish groups and activists close to the Trump administration chose not to speak out about the chance of Gorka being removed, noting that it was not yet clear whether he is leaving the White House and under what circumstances.
Beyond the issues raised by Gorka’s past associations and by his controversial statements on Muslims and the Middle East, the British-born adviser is also facing a practical hurdle preventing him from assuming top national security positions, whether in the White House or in other government agencies: He has yet to receive a high-level security clearance, in part because he was caught last year trying to carry a gun through an airport security checkpoint. Charges against Gorka had been dropped, but according to press reports, the issue is still preventing him from receiving a top security clearance.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.