After months of criticism for hiring Sebastian Gorka, a Hungarian immigrant and Nazi sympathizer, to advise Donald Trump on counterterrorism, the White House decided that Gorka's close association with the president is less than favorable optics.
For Donald Trump, who has faced extensive criticism for his anti-Semitic dog whistles, tweets, and of course for choosing unapologetic white nationalist Steve Bannon as one of his top advisers, hiring Sebastian Gorka to advise Trump on counterterrorism was always an odd choice.
Gorka, according to a report by The Forward, is a member of the Hungarian far-right group known as Vitézi Rend, established by the anti-Semitic leader of Hungary who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The U.S. State Department's rules state that members "are presumed to be inadmissible," per the Immigration and Nationality Act. This alone could have been grounds to deny Gorka's immigration to the U.S.
And yet, Gorka has been working as a terrorism adviser to Trump, as a member of the Strategic Initiatives Group, while the Trump team appears content to overlook Gorka's highly problematic background and membership in an extremist group founded by Nazis.
The Washington Examiner reports that Trump is demoting Gorka from his current role as deputy assistant to the president. However, Gorka will be appointed to a federal agency, where he will work on the "war of ideas" to counter radical Islamic extremism, according to a senior administration official, suggesting that his removal from the White House has more to do with optics rather than legitimate concerns about his political extremism.
As The Atlantic noted in March, "Setting aside the question of immigration status, the story does force the question of how Gorka made it through the vetting process." One possibility is that Gorka, like other members of the Trump administration, was not thoroughly vetted.
Recent reports revealed that Mike Pence conducted a vetting process of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn during the Trump transition, though it was done "very casually." That contradicted the administration's prior claims that the transition team did not conduct its own background check because Flynn had previously been vetted by the Obama administration — a laughable defense considering that President Obama fired Flynn and certainly would not have recommended him for such a high-ranking position.
Multiple White House sources told the Washington Examiner that Gorka's role has never been clear and that it was always intended to be temporary. One source said, "This guy has always been a big mystery to me."
The real mystery is why the White House would employ a member of a neo-Nazi group in the first place and why that alone would not be enough to remove Gorka not only from Trump's inner circle but from any government position whatsoever.