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Trump Adviser Sebastian Gorka Threatens Legal Action Over Tweets

Feb 24, 2017
Originally published on February 24, 2017 4:34 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sebastian Gorka is one of the president's most high-profile surrogates and security advisers. He's a controversial voice on Islamic jihad. This week, Gorka has come under fire from some of his peers in the counterterrorism community who call him a fraud. Now, he's threatened one of them with legal action. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: He calls himself Dr. Sebastian Gorka. He's an immigrant from England, the son of refugees from Hungary, where he got his Ph.D. Gorka's also been one of the more outspoken members of the Trump administration. Here he is on Fox News late last year, belittling the outgoing Obama administration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEBASTIAN GORKA: The era of the pajama boy is over January 20, and the alpha males are back.

WELNA: Gorka is the new White House counterterrorism czar, part of what's called the Strategic Initiatives group headed by his former boss at Breitbart News, Chief White House Strategist Stephen Bannon. Counterterrorism expert Michael Smith voted for Trump, but he's questioned Gorka's credentials under the Twitter hashtag #faketerrorismexpert. Earlier this week, Smith got a threatening phone call from Gorka himself.

MICHAEL SMITH: I immediately thought this must be a prank call because he's calling me from a cell phone, suggesting that he wants to talk about official business - specifically, elevating awareness of my tweets about him to White House legal counsel. So that's a phone call that should be made on an official White House line.

WELNA: And a call, Smith adds, that should have been recorded, which is exactly what he did as Gorka lit into him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORKA: Why is there such vitriol pumping out of you constantly every day now? It's so strange. I've looked at your Twitter feed, you know, once or twice a day. And again, it's half a dozen tweets about me. And I've never met you.

SMITH: Wow. Are you defeating jihad by monitoring or trolling my Twitter feed? I mean, honestly, to begin, you've called...

GORKA: Oh, I've - OK. If that's your explanation.

SMITH: You've called as a White House official. You have called an American citizen and begun the conversation...

GORKA: Yeah, I have.

SMITH: ...very confrontationally by accusing me of animus toward you, of which I'm attempting to explain. There is no animus towards you. I believe that you're a charlatan.

GORKA: You're calling me a fake.

WELNA: Gorka also hinted Smith could soon face a legal fight with the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORKA: Before I do anything and show these materials to legal counsel, tell me why you're doing it.

WELNA: During the 27-minute phone call, Smith says Gorka eventually invited him to talk at the White House.

SMITH: I think that he was attempting to intimidate me and was trying to avoid having a record of the call in the first place. But during the course of the call, I think it occurred to him that he may be approaching things in such an unprofessional manner that I could perhaps bring that to light in such a way as to harm his career working in government.

WELNA: Gorka has lectured at several American military academies. Last year, his book "Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War" was a best-seller. Three days after Trump won the presidency, Gorka spoke to a giddy crowd in Florida. Topic? Defeating jihad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORKA: I'm going to start with something a tad naughty if you want to indulge me, OK. We are happy, right? We are happy. But I want to show a picture I'm not meant to show usually, but here we go anyway.

WELNA: A grisly photo projected on a large screen shows a dead insurgent lying face down, an AK-47 at his side. For Gorka, that image seems to say it all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORKA: We can win now. We can win.

WELNA: For some counterterrorism experts, though, such talk is bravado.

PAUL PILLAR: Gorka is a showman.

WELNA: Paul Pillar was chief of counterterrorist analysis at the CIA. He's now with Georgetown University.

PILLAR: Gorka is not taken seriously as an analyst of terrorism or international affairs in the serious academic community.

WELNA: But Gorka does have his defenders. James Carafano is a military expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who served on Trump's transition team. He says Seb, as Gorka's friends know him, is being maligned by jealous colleagues.

JAMES CARAFANO: This is somebody who has been kind of excluded from a lot of mainstream conversations for a long time. And if there's one thing Seb is well practiced at, it's about not being ignored.

WELNA: Gorka did not respond to my repeated requests for an interview. But he did show up this week at CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives just outside Washington. Having only recently become a U.S. citizen himself, Gorka launched into a staunch defense there of the executive order barring entry to people who are, like his parents once were, refugees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORKA: The border is our front door. Surely we should have a control as to who enters our house. This is the house of America. And the idea that we don't control it is crazy.

WELNA: That same evening, Gorka withdrew his White House invitation to his Twitter nemesis, Michael Smith. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.