Since President Donald Trump appointed Sebastian Gorka last month as a deputy assistant, Gorka has been an increasingly visible defender of the administration.
He has spoken out in favor of the targeted travel ban, which spurred mass protests and was blocked by federal courts. He suggested in a recent interview with The Hill that CNN anchor Jake Tapper was sexist for aggressively questioning Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. He has also insisted that media reports of turmoil in the White House bear “almost no resemblance to reality.”
Gorka came out swinging again Thursday, after Trump’s contentious news conference in which he excoriated the media. Asked by Evan Davis of the BBC to assess Trump’s appearance, Gorka repeatedly declared the president’s performance “fabulous.”
“It’s only weird to journalists like yourself, who are biased,” he said.
Who is he? Here’s what we know:
— Naturalized U.S. citizen
Gorka is a U.S. citizen who was born in Britain to Hungarian parents. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Corvinus University of Budapest and has made his living as a national security expert with a focus on Islamist extremism.
He wrote a best-selling book, published last year, called “Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War.” In his Breitbart articles, he has criticized foreign policy under the Obama administration and trumpeted the threat of the Islamic State group.
— Breitbart veteran and friend of Bannon
Gorka, 46, is a former editor for the far-right media outlet Breitbart News and a friend of Stephen Bannon, former Breitbart chairman who is now a powerful assistant to Trump.
Until recently, Gorka was not well known to Washington policymakers. But his increasing visibility has brought headlines, some less welcome than others.
He has appeared in television and radio interviews as a representative of the Trump administration and a member of a White House team called the Strategic Initiatives Group. The Daily Beast called it a think tank within the White House that was set up by Bannon and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
— ‘Who is he reporting to?’
The group’s formation raised red flags, said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and director of strategy and statecraft at the Center for a New American Security.
The National Security Council has traditionally played a decisive role in foreign policy decisions, she said. “Now we have the Strategic Initiatives Group and the National Security Council both working on issues of national security and strategy. So my question on Sebastian, ultimately, is: Who is he reporting to? Is he reporting to the National Security Council? Or is this a direct line to Bannon?”
Gorka said he could not comment for this article without clearance from the White House. But after multiple calls and emails since Tuesday, neither he nor the White House has answered questions about his position or the role of the initiatives group.
This month, Gorka told CNN that the group would bring private industry expertise to bear on a range of issues, including cybersecurity, veterans affairs and the modernization of government technological systems. (BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.) “That is very different from what the National Security Council is doing every day under the sterling leadership of General Flynn,” he added, referring to Michael T. Flynn, then national security adviser, who would resign 12 days later.
Smith said she was not personally familiar with Gorka, though she had crossed paths with him during the early 2000s.
“I don’t know what to believe about this guy, but given his experience at Breitbart and what I had heard years ago, it does appear to me that he takes some rather extreme views,” she said.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.) — Claims of Nazi sympathies
Gorka dismissed criticisms that he holds extreme views during a Wednesday interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News and brushed aside some of the more controversial reports buzzing around him.
“I think we’re doing our job very well — don’t you, Sean? — if this is the best they can do,” he said.
He referred to reports, like one from Fusion, that said he had exaggerated his role as an expert witness in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of helping to carry out the Boston bombing of 2013. Gorka told Hannity he still had invoices for the expert report he submitted for the case.
“I may not have taken the stand, but I was an expert on the Boston bombing trial,” he said.
As for the speculations about Nazi sympathies, they go back to one of Trump’s inauguration balls, when Gorka — appearing in photos and a video interview with Hannity — wore a medal that could be interpreted as a nod to Miklos Horthy, a Hungarian leader who entered into a strained alliance with Nazi Germany in the early years of World War II.
In a video posted Tuesday by Breitbart, Gorka said the medal belonged to his father, who he said had suffered “under both the Nazis and the Communists” in Hungary, having lived through World War II and survived torture under the Soviet-imposed government that later came to power.
— Misdemeanor weapons charge
Gorka was charged with a misdemeanor after he took a handgun into Reagan National Airport in Virginia last year.
In a statement quoted by Breitbart, he said that on his way to the airport, he had “grabbed the wrong bag, one I had just used” at a gun range. He added that he was allowed to board his flight, and that the weapon was confiscated.
The charge was dropped early this month. (STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.) Though his appointment to the White House occurred only recently, Gorka has been in touch with Trump at least since 2015. He wrote last year that he had submitted some policy papers to the presidential candidate and had met with him twice to discuss national security issues.
Federal election commission filings indicate that the Trump campaign paid $8,000 to Gorka for policy consulting in 2015.
It is difficult to predict the impact Gorka could have on foreign policy in the White House, Smith said, especially since he is apparently working under the shadowy aegis of Bannon.
“We’ve got a situation where both outsiders and certain members of the government are confused about who is serving as the lead on foreign policy decisions,” she said. “And because we are not clear about Steve Bannon’s role, it raises a lot of concern because of his personal views, and also his lack of experience.”