Q&A: Sebastian Gorka says the GOP didn’t win last November, Donald Trump did

Sebastian Gorka at a White House ceremony on May 2 commemorating Israeli Independence Day.
Sebastian Gorka at a White House ceremony on May 2 commemorating Israeli Independence Day.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Sebastian Gorka left the White House last month after a brief, stormy tenure as an advisor on terrorism and close associate of chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

While still in that post, he was invited to address the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism's annual conference now underway in Herzliya, Israel. At the conference, Gorka, a British-born academic and mainstay of cable television punditry, sat down for an interview with The Times.

In a 45-minute conversation, Gorka expressed continuing support for President Trump, denounced Republican Party leaders as a greater obstacle to Trump’s success than Democrats, and predicted that the president would soon purge the White House of staffers who are not loyal to his “Make America Great Again” agenda.

He portrayed himself as a “utility infielder,” with wide-ranging duties in national security. However, Gorka was unable to get clearance for a position on the National Security Council.

Here is a transcript of his remarks, edited for length and clarity.

What was it like working in the White House?

It was a dream. Think about it. I’m an immigrant, a legal immigrant to the United States, I only became a citizen five years ago. Every day for seven months I pinched myself as I was walking in and out of the West Wing, so it’s only in America, right? Only in America.

Who did you work with? What were the issues that you dealt with the most?

I was deputy assistant to the president. My job was strategist in the office of the chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. Somebody once described me as the president’s national security utility infielder. My background was terrorism, with a specific focus on Sunni terrorism, Al Qaeda, ISIS [Islamic State]. But you name it, in national security I probably had some kind of involvement.

The president was only the Republican candidate by accident. He is the quintessential anti-establishment candidate.

— Sebastian Gorka

Who did you work with most closely?

Steve [Bannon]. I worked directly with Steve. But also my colleagues on the National Security Council, many of whom have since been fired.

Why are they being fired, and why did you leave? What is happening now at the White House, and what is [Chief of Staff] John Kelly’s role?

This isn’t about John Kelly. John Kelly is a military professional. He’s a four-star legend in the Marine Corps. He’s imposed a military professionalism onto the processes inside the building, the management of information, the management of time. That is what you’d expect from a military professional.

The reason I resigned is — the president won for a reason. The bumper sticker for that reason is MAGA — Make America Great Again. It was a very simple platform: Build the wall, fix the economy, defeat the jihadists.

In the last few months it became apparent to me, to Steve, to members of the original MAGA team, that people who had nothing to do with the Make America Great Again agenda were rising in influence inside the building and were shutting out and boxing out people who had been identified as [the] heart and soul of the original platform. So Steve left. That was his decision. When I saw the text of the speech the president had been given to give on Afghanistan, that was the catalyst. When I heard one of the most important national security speeches of the new presidency not make one mention of the phrase radical Islam or radical Islamic terrorism, I realized that I cannot effectively do my work as a government official when these are the constraints inside the building.

But let me assure your readers: The current state of affairs inside the West Wing is, as far as I’m concerned, a temporary state of affairs.

I predict that very soon, probably before Christmas, the president himself will be making very high level personnel decisions and individuals who he realizes are not part of his original team, and who are not giving him the right advice, will be fired or will be asked to leave.

The day Steve Bannon left he said the MAGA presidency is over. Do you agree?

No, I don’t agree with that representation because I agree with Steve’s qualification of that statement that he gave four or five days later, when he said, “The MAGA presidency as originally envisaged is over, but the agenda continues.” It is often dangerous to quote people with very short quotes. If you look at the “60 Minutes” interview, Steve’s doing what he’s doing to make sure that November the Eighth is an eight-year reality, not an eight-month reality.

Does that include presenting primary candidates against currently sitting GOP members of Congress?

I’ve said this again and again and again: The biggest problem we have isn’t the Democrat Party. The biggest near-term obstacle to the president’s agenda is the fact that the GOP Republican Party thinks they won the election.

They did not win the election. The president was only the Republican candidate by accident. He is the quintessential anti-establishment candidate, as anti-left-wing establishment as he is anti-right-wing establishment.

The other thing that is very important is that everybody has misunderstood what happened last week when Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were in the Oval Office.

That meeting wasn’t about capitulation. That meeting was a message to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan: The president is results-oriented and if you don’t want to be a member of his team — Hey! There are other people I can work with.

Who is on the president’s team of key supporters?

There are five people left that are in senior positions that are loyal to the president and came in to serve him based upon his original agenda. And apart from that, there’s all kinds of people on the outside, whether its Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley, myself, Sheriff Dave Clarke, Steve, Dave Bossie, Corey Lewandowski. The usual faces have not changed, they’ve not gone over to somebody else’s team.

How do you define the White House role of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump? Are they helping the president advance his agenda?

I made a promise the day I resigned, having been the brunt of seven months of unbelievable media attacks and constant palace intrigue stories that were in most cases manufactured out of whole cloth, I’m not going to fuel further palace intrigue stories. I am not interested in attacking anybody in the administration as an individual.

They have a very unusual role. They are family and senior assistants to the presidents. It’s fair game to ask.

I cannot tell you why Ivanka came into the administration. But I’ll tell you what I observed in the regular meetings with Jared that we had.

Nothing he did convinced me that he’s in the building to undermine the MAGA base, to attack Steve Bannon or to do anything else nefarious. I saw a young, driven, intelligent man acting in ways to make his father-in-law’s presidency a success. That’s all I saw. He was always very cordial and very polite.

What can Israel expect from the peace process he’s in charge of?

I always tell people the fact that the president made his son-in-law and his most trusted lawyer [Jason Greenblatt] the point people for the peace process tells you everything you need to know about the president’s commitment to bringing peace to the region. Both individuals went into that process with their eyes wide open, very cautious and in a mode to listen. They were listening for the first few months.

Then as they found their feet, I think they’ve realized the harsh reality. I think Jared and Jason have realized that you cannot have an agreement unless both parties act in good faith. And I think Jared, and Jason especially, have realized that one party, the Palestinian Authority, is not acting in good faith.

In the interview you mentioned earlier, Steve Bannon said that the firing of FBI Director James Comey is the worst political mistake of the modern era, because it brought about special counsel Robert Mueller. Do you agree?

No, I don’t agree with Steve. I think Comey has singlehandedly done the greatest damage to one of the most important federal institutions of the U.S. government in modern history — the FBI.

I think the existence of Mueller is a travesty because hiring 16 lawyers, all of whom were significant Democrat donors, and having an independent counsel who’s best friends with the person who was fired, that’s a travesty of modern democracy. [Editor’s note: Seven of the lawyers on Mueller’s team, not 16, have made donations to Democrats.]

Who do you blame for this situation?

Rod Rosenstein. It’s his decision. The president did not appoint Mueller, the deputy attorney general did, so if you want to look for culpability, Rosenstein is the guy. It is outrageous! Look at what they donated to Democrat candidates. Look at the personal history that Mueller has with Comey.

You have been accused of wearing a Nazi ribbon or medal to the inauguration, of being one of the founders of a political party in Hungary that has Nazi roots. You’ve been accused of palling around with anti-Semites.

As the child of people who suffered under the Nazi occupation of Hungary, whose father, at the age of 14, in 1944, would accompany his Jewish school friends who were forced to wear the Star of David, he walked with them to school and back so they wouldn’t be assaulted and spat on by the German troops in Budapest — to have anybody cast aspersions on me or my family is absolutely reprehensible. I thought I was adequately cynical about the media, with my family background, before I went to the government, I had no idea.

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent.


2:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this article contained a reference to Gorka being charged with carrying a gun at an airport. That charge was later dropped.

This article was originally published at 1:20 p.m.