Gorka Strays Out Of His Comfort Zone—And Straight Into Controversy

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s counter-terrorism advisor, appears to still be smarting this week following a rare foray beyond the right-wing media ghetto to which he usually limits himself.

Two days after the deputy assistant to the president engaged in an epic clash with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo on June 5, Gorka told Steve Malzberg of NewsMax, a right-wing news site, that the focus of Cuomo and others in the mainstream media on Trump’s use of the term “travel ban” in a recent tweet was “worse than counterproductive; it could actually endanger people.”

The tweet undermined Trump’s own spokespeople and Justice Department attorneys, who have long been pushing back against media outlets that referred to Trump’s most recent executive order temporarily barring U.S. entry to travelers from six overwhelmingly Muslim countries as a “ban.” But Gorka told Malzberg, “We’re not here in the White House to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I mean, I went on CNN yesterday (for my sins) for 16 minutes. Sixteen minutes. For 16 minutes, the host wanted to talk about the president’s tweets. There are seven people dead in the UK—our close allies—48 in the hospital, half in intensive care—and the media wants to talk about a tweet?”

In the face of successful court challenges, Trump’s lawyers have sought to dismiss the idea that the president’s executive order is a “travel ban.” Among other things, the term harkened back to Trump’s campaign vow to “ban” Muslims from entering the country. Several courts ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional when they struck down an earlier, more Draconian version of the executive order against immigrants that targeted seven Muslim countries.

Justice Department lawyers have been trying to persuade courts that Trump’s modified executive order, issued March 6, sidesteps the issue of religious discrimination that doomed the first. But Trump undercut supporters who denied it was a ban with a barrage of tweets on June 5, following terrorist attacks in London.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Trump tweeted. Trump not only called for the Supreme Court to approve the ban; he also slammed the Justice Department for not having continued its fight for the earlier executive order and suggested he might resurrect it.

Gorka’s clash with Cuomo Monday about this grew into an no-holds-barred brawl. Shedding the role of disinterested interviewer, Cuomo repeatedly challenged the deputy assistant to the president factually and personally. When Gorka sought to bring up Obama administration policies toward the countries in question, Cuomo accused him of trying to “get away from President Trump and policy as quickly as possible… and blame Obama for everything.”

Gorka, in turn, tried to quiz Cuomo on his knowledge of the Muslim world and argued that Trump’s excluding of two of the world’s largest Muslim countries—Indonesia and Egypt—from his ban showed it was no blanket ban against Muslims entering the United States.

Cuomo noted that Saudi Arabia, a close American ally, like Egypt and Indonesia, was also excluded, though “fifteen of the [9/11] hijackers came from there.”

“They’re not on your list,” Cuomo noted. “There’s speculation as to why.”

“Unfortunately,” retorted Gorka, “what you’ve just spun is classic fake news.” He called CNN “the biggest purveyor of fake news.”

And on it went.

Still, neither Cuomo nor Malzberg on NewsMax asked Gorka anything about the questions that continue to swirl around Gorka regarding his personal background or his security credentials.

A series of reports by the Forward have highlighted the relationship between Gorka, who came to America from Hungary, and far right, anti-Semitic forces in that country with whom he partnered or that he supported while pursuing a political career there. When questioned about this in previous encounters Gorka has stressed that he himself has never been portrayed as having said or done anything anti-Semitic.

The TV hosts also did not ask the counter-terrorism adviser about whether he has yet obtained a security clearance that would allow him to sit in sensitive White House meetings on counter-terrorism. Unnamed sources in multiple reportshave stated that Gorka has been unable to get such a clearance. The White House did not respond to a call from the Forward asking about the status of Gorka’s security clearance. Gorka deflected inquiries about this in an interview with Forbes on May 17.

Meanwhile, Gorka received a standing ovation on June 6 from hundreds of members of the Zionist Organization of America who were in Washington for a group lobbying mission. In his introduction, ZOA national president Morton Klein described him as “one of the staunchest allies in support of Israel and in the fight against Islamic terrorism.”

In his own address to the group, Gorka referred to the pro-Nazi-Arrow Cross regime that ruled Hungary at the very end of World War II and the communists who took control of the country after the war. People, he said, must “understand the linkage between these two totalitarianisms. Left/right is irrelevant.” He equated modern day jihadists with these movements.

Notably absent from Gorka’s talk was any reference to Admiral Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s ruler from 1920 to 1944, who collaborated with Hitler. Horthy, who is venerated by a right-wing group of which Gorka is reportedly a member, instituted Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws even before World War II, deported hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands, confiscated their properties and turned these properties over to his supporters in a far right group known as the Vitézi Rend, among others.

Leaders of the Vitézi Rend’s modern day incarnation, who continue to exalt Horthy, have told the Forward that Gorka is one of their own and has sworn a lifelong oath of fealty to their order. Gorka denies this.

The American Jewish Committee has called for an investigation into Gorka’s background, as have three U.S. senators. Fifty-five House members have demanded Trump fire him. The Anti-Defamation League has called on Gorka to disavow “the message and outlook” of anti-Semitic organizations such as those he worked with while living in Hungary.

Gorka did not respond to the ADL’s call.

Asked about the Forward’s findings regarding Gorka’s background in a recent phone exchange, Klein of the ZOA said, “Why would you want to go after someone who’s so supportive of Israel?”


Larry Cohler-Esses

Larry Cohler-Esses

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 cohleresses@forward.com.

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Gorka Strays Out Of His Comfort Zone—And Straight Into Controversy

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