The role of Sebastian Gorka, a controversial and often combative senior adviser to President Trump, has become the subject of debate inside the White House with some senior administration officials pressing for him to be reassigned even as others insist his job is safe.
Gorka has been singled out by some in the White House as a liability for his hard-line stands on Islam and terrorism and his past involvement in right-wing Hungarian politics. But Gorka, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet, has powerful supporters in both the president and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.
Gorka might also have one other factor working in his favor: After a tumultuous first 100 days in office, the president and his top advisers are also eager to avoid more major staff shake-ups, senior officials said.
Gorka initially joined the White House as a deputy assistant to the president and senior member of the Strategic Initiatives Group, an internal White House think tank that briefly reported to Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
The group has since been disbanded leaving Gorka, who specializes in counterterrorism and national security issues, without a clear portfolio. Some senior administration officials said that he could be reassigned in the next few months to a senior job in the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department or the Pentagon.
“It’s a question of finding the best role for him,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel issues.
But other officials insisted that Gorka’s role with the administration has not changed and that he will continue to advise Trump and Bannon on broad counterterrorism and national security strategy.
In the wake of news reports suggesting that he may be moved, a second senior administration official said Gorka was assured by a senior White House official that his job was safe.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer played down the possibility of Gorka’s imminent departure. “I have no belief he is currently leaving the White House,” Spicer told reporters Monday. “So there’s nothing to update you on, with respect to that, and we wouldn’t talk about personnel matters at this time.”
Gorka also appears to have the strong backing of Trump, who has privately praised his combative television appearances and his heated critiques of the media as purveyors of fake news.
Gorka has been a staunch defender of the president’s executive order on immigration and refugees, and has been criticized by some counterterrorism experts for his insistence that the terrorism threat emanates primarily from Islam and violent passages of the Koran. He rejects research suggesting that Islamist militancy is also an outgrowth of repression, poverty and poor governance.
More recently he has strongly advocated describing the enemy as “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has privately argued is too broad and risks alienating potential allies. Even as McMaster has amassed influence inside the White House and won the trust of the president, Trump has sided with Gorka and his allies on the narrower question of how to describe the enemy.
Gorka also has been accused of having links to groups in Europe with anti-Semitic histories, a charge that he has vigorously denied.