Ma'a Salama

Did Sebastian Gorka Bolt From the White House—Or Was He Pushed?

The nationalist adviser claims he resigned. But the White House won’t back him up. Either way, intelligence and law enforcement professionals are cheering.

The departure of nationalist White House adviser Sebastian Gorka on Friday night was greeted in intelligence, law enforcement, and civil rights circles as a victory and relief, though something short of a cause for cautious optimism that Donald Trump’s White House will move in a less extreme direction.

Gorka has been a leading White House advocate of an anti-Islam worldview that most scholars of the religion and counterterrorism practitioners consider conspiratorial, if not bigoted. Gorka compared Osama bin Laden to Martin Luther and Sharia-compliant mortgages to the 9/11 attacks. Along with Steve Bannon, the now-departed White House chief strategist, Gorka had driven Trump’s rhetoric of “radical Islamic terrorism,” in opposition to Army Lt. General H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser who told his first meeting of the National Security Council he wishes to avoid the phrase.

In recent months, Gorka’s actual responsibilities at the White House were, at best, unclear. The policy panel he once served on was dissolved. And so Gorka’s job has been little more than making fiesty, showman-like appearances in right-wing media that have reportedly earned Trump’s enjoyment.

“Other than as a talking head on TV, Gorka was fairly inconsequential,” one administration official involved in the national security policymaking said of the news. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Trump has long mulled Gorka’s departure from the White House. But since Gorka’s wife holds a position at the Department of Homeland Security, occasional rumors have arisen that Gorka could land at DHS, which has significant influence over relations with American Muslim communities.

U.S. intelligence agencies, maligned by Gorka and allies as the “deep state,” will welcome Gorka’s departure, according to a former senior intelligence official, “due to his less than stellar credentials applicable to counterterrorism.”

The ex-senior official told The Daily Beast: “Mr. Gorka supplied more ideology than sound analysis in making his judgments in terms of helping shape a counterterrorism strategy for the Trump administration. His role in the White House was ill-defined but was known to interfere with the role of the departments and agencies. From all indications, his departure would suggest that chief of Staff John Kelly continues to bring a semblance of discipline within the White House staff.”

But, in the eyes of some in those circles, the White House’s national security moves appear to be amateurish at best, offensive at worst.

“Like in the original version, this White House Edition of ‘The Apprentice’ requires someone to leave every week,” Ali Soufan, a retired FBI counterterrorism special agent, told The Daily Beast.

“It seems Generals McMaster and Kelly are cleaning house. Mr. Gorka does not have either the expertise nor the credentials to be at the NSC. He was there because of his connections to Steve Bannon.

“Bannon was let go last Friday. This Friday, Gorka was gone too.”

Both Bannon and Gorka opposed an escalation of the war in Afghanistan pushed by McMaster and the uniformed military. In a resignation letter reported by The Federalist, Gorka argued that his wing of Trump’s advisers represent the soul of his constituents. As an example of its eclipse by internal rivals, Gorka lamented that Trump’s Monday Afghanistan speech, “removed any mention of Radical Islam or radical Islamic terrorism,” which Gorka saw as a signal that “a crucial element of your presidential campaign has been lost.”

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“[G]iven recent events, it is clear to me that forces that do not support the MAGA promise are—for now—ascendant within the White House,” Gorka added. “As a result, the best and most effective way I can support you, Mr. President, is from outside the People’s House.”

However, not everyone sees Gorka’s departure the way he might want to spin it. Multiple senior staffers in the Trump White House disputed to The Daily Beast the idea that Gorka resigned on his own terms. “He did not resign but can confirm he no longer works at the [White House],” one White House official told The Daily Beast on Friday.

Another senior official simply confirmed that “Gorka is out.” Gorka did not respond to requests for comment, and sent The Daily Beast straight to voicemail twice on Friday night.

But Yahoo News reported that Gorka resigned only after having his security clearance revoked by Kelly—a move which, in effect, made Gorka's job all-but-impossible to carry out.

In one of his last major media appearances this month, Gorka derided the idea that white supremacist terrorism represented a legitimate security threat.

“It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t,” Gorka said, name-checking New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

It was days before a white-supremacist riot in Charlottesville left a counter-protester Heather Heyer dead.

Gorka, who once lectured for the FBI, had his contract terminated last year, after an internal outcry over his anti-Islam diatribes. HuffPost’s Jessica Schulberg reported this month that Gorka still lectures at Marine Corps University, not far from the FBI training grounds at Quantico.

The Daily Beast has learned that a Gorka lecture at Fort Bragg’s Special Operations Center of Excellence, scheduled for before Charlottesville, had been canceled due to an cited scheduling conflict—though the elite school may reschedule the “distinguished lecture.”

Along with other voices supporting U.S. Muslim communities, the civil rights group Muslim Advocates has been pushing on social media for the ouster of Bannon, Gorka, and nationalist domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller.

The group’s executive director, Farhana Khera, told The Daily Beast that Gorka’s departure is significant “but we still have a lot of work to do.”

“Gorka was definitely a major proponent of anti-Muslim bigotry in the White House, and I think his ouster is important,” Khera said, “but there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure this president is a president for all Americans.”

Khera noted that right as the Gorka departure was breaking that Trump had pardoned convicted Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero in the far-right circles Trump has enthusiastically embraced for his brutal treatment of suspected illegal immigrants and willingness to use racial profiling.

“We believe the pardoning of Joe Arpaio is signalling that law enforcement can operate outside the law, and that action undermines our constitution and the public’s trust in our justice system,” Khera said.

“The critical thing is we believe Gorka was the symptom of the disease. And the disease is a president who is dividing Americans and undermining the rule of law, and we still have work to do.”

It remained unclear what Gorka’s next move would be. Sources at Breitbart, where his former boss Bannon recently returned as a hero, said that Gorka would “always have a home at Breitbart, if he wants it.” Some speculated that Gorka would return to the Institute of World Politics where he is “currently on leave for government service.”

Gorka’s friends and political allies are hoping that, now that he’s free from the restraints of the federal government, one potential upside is he will be able to help wage war on certain elements of the Trump administration from the outside—some of the same elements who worked to oust Bannon and Gorka himself.

“It’s clear at this point that people like H.R. McMaster, Dina Habib Powell, Gary Cohn, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump have their own agenda that is drastically different from what President Trump campaigned on,” one source close to Gorka said Friday.

The source added, “As the president enters this new period of darkness in his administration, it’s clear he will need as many allies as he can get on the outside who will actually defend him unlike the aforementioned names—and there is nobody better than Dr. Sebastian Gorka to do that.”

—with additional reporting by Kim Dozier