President Trump's agenda has been stymied by government bureaucrats and some of his political appointees opposed to tougher policies on terrorism and new approaches to countering Chinese economic warfare, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka says.
Gorka, until recently deputy assistant to the president and a counterterrorism expert, resigned on Monday following the departure of several senior national security officials who were forced out or sidelined as part of an effort to purge the White House of conservative hardliners.
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The most significant departure was the resignation of chief White House strategist Steve Bannon who Gorka directly worked for.
"Why did I resign? Very simply, I came on board because I believed in the president's Make America Great Again agenda, and part of that was a very clear national security stance on the threat of radical Islamic terrorism to this nation," Gorka told the Washington Free Beacon.
"And the real believers, the real ‘MAGA' fighters inside the building were being progressively boxed out, or fired from the [National Security Council] which was even more disturbing."
The catalyst for leaving was the president's Aug. 21 speech on Afghanistan. Until the speech, the president frequently railed against radical Islamic terrorism. But all references to Islamic terror were scrubbed from the speech.
"When you have a speech, a very significant national security speech on the longest war America has been engaged against jihadism, against al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban and there is not one mention of radical Islam or radical Islamic terrorism, we have a serious problem," Gorka said. "And that's when I realized that I can do a lot more for the president on the outside of the building than I can on the inside of the building."
Gorka declined to name names of those in the White House and government opposing the president's agenda.
But he outlined several key policies that were hampered by opposition from what he termed the "permanent state" of establishment bureaucrats and policymakers.
Gorka for eight months in office was the target of unprecedented media and congressional attacks from critics who sought to portray the counterterrorism specialist as a right wing extremist who lacked credentials. Supporters dubbed the attacks a "political lynching."
"Having been the target of so much palace intrigue and attacks in the last eight months, I'm not interested in fueling the palace intrigue stories any further so I'm not going to talk about individuals," he said.
Gorka's main takeaway from working in the White House: The president is not being supported in pursuing his agenda.
"If you ask me kind of what the big take home is from working at that kind of level inside the government, the most disturbing thing I found is not just the lack of commitment to the president's vision from political appointees that came in to serve the president as commissioned officers or as cabinet members," he said.
"The real moment when the scales fell from my eyes is when after I'd been to numerous National Security Council meetings—I wasn't a member of the NSC but I was invited to various key meetings—and you sit there for an hour, or an hour and half listening as you go around to the various outstations, State, CIA, DIA, the Pentagon, all the arms of the interagency.
"And you listen for an hour, or an hour and half, and nobody, not one participant would mention the president, or what the president said, or what the president's mission was."
Gorka said he made sure to remind all the meeting participants at each session about what Trump had said in his speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, or Warsaw, Poland, or to Congress that all were there to serve the chief executive.
Government officials are not paid to "represent your own ideological desires," or because they think they know more than the person ultimately responsibility for the federal government, he said.
"I can't tell you how many meetings I went to where I would have to remind everybody participating: This is what the president wants and this is the mission we're here to serve," Gorka said.
"I don't like the phrase Deep State, but there is definitely a permanent state that in far too many instances believes that they represent the American people when they were never elected to office and when they actually serve the White House and not the other way around."
Gorka worked on several security issues at the White House. Much of his focus, however, was on decertifying the Obama administration's questionable nuclear deal with Iran; designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, as several Arab sates have done; dealing with Arab world pressure on Qatar for its sponsorship of extremism; and seeking to counter China's massive theft of intellectual property from U.S. companies.
"We have some very distinct policy divergences inside the building," Gorka said.
Key among them is opposition from administration policymakers who have diluted Trump's stance on the threat posed by Islamic jihadism while seeking to reinforce President Barack Obama's policies that dealt with Islamic terror as unrelated to ideology and motivated by other factors.
On Iran, Gorka said he took part in one heated debate in the Oval Office against Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who supported having the administration recertify that Tehran was complying with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
"It was only Steve Bannon and me—and the president—who were saying this a bad deal and we should not recertify," Gorka said.
The State Department made the certification of Iranian compliance in July.
"The threat to America doesn't just come from Sunni jihadism," Gorka. "The threat from a nuclear Iran and the Shia jihadism is a very clear and present danger."
Gorka vowed to continue fighting against the Iran deal from outside government "because that deal must not be recertified."
"It is incredibly detrimental to the safety of America and to our allies in the region," he said.
On China, Gorka said he is more optimistic about future administration policies but said there is widespread opposition from within government and the business community to pressuring China on its illicit trade practices. China trade policy remains on a "relatively sure footing," he said.
On Aug. 18, he noted, the U.S. Trade Representative formally launched an investigation into China's theft of intellectual property. China has said the probe could trigger a trade war.
Gorka said despite the purge of conservatives, three senior officials in the White House remain "who have their heads screwed on right when it comes to the massive effort on the economic warfare we are currently being subjected to by Beijing."
"At the moment they're winning," he said. "It is trench warfare on that issue inside the establishment because the Silicon Valley business interests have all but capitulated to Chinese hegemonic interests, economically."
On Qatar, Gorka praised the president for pressuring Arab leaders during his speech in Saudi Arabia urging them to do more to help the United States counter terrorism.
"In front of the arrayed heads of state of the Muslim Arab world, he literally said you must drive the Muslim extremists from your houses of worship and your communities," Gorka said. "So he gave those nations tough love."
In June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE cut ties to Doha government accusing Qatar of backing terrorists and supporting Iran. Regional allies backed the action.
But in Washington, Trump administration officials tried to undermine the pressure that Trump had started on Qatar, Gorka said.
"I kept hearing this in the meetings, at the [Policy Coordination Committee] and the NSC … everybody having conniptions about, ‘we can't escalate, you've got to de-escalate, you've got to deescalate.' Wrong. The president, the president, said this is the time to maintain or even increase pressure so that we finally see a significant change to the policies toward funding and the providing of succor to extremist elements in the Middle East," Gorka said.
Gorka said the political battle over designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group was fierce and eventually was stifled by bureaucrats and political pressure from Brotherhood supporters in government agencies, Congress, and the news media.
"Pulling out of the Paris climate accord was child's play by comparison to designating the grandfather of all jihadi groups," Gorka said of that debate.
"You know moving the [U.S.] embassy to Jerusalem and designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization—as several Arab state already have done—are the two heaviest lifts that we encountered inside the building and it's really quite stunning," he said.
The Egyptian-origin Muslim Brotherhood is an international organization that advocates anti-democratic Islamic law supremacy. Analysts say the group is the ideological forebear of all the major terrorist groups including the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
In the United States, the group is largely covert and has operated through front organizations that seek to exploit American concepts of religious liberty to advance the Islamist political agenda.
"In the beginning, the key question was do we designate individual chapters, or go for an en bloc designation," Gorka said. "That's what we spent many, many months discussing. And then we just had bureaucratic inertia, and those sympathetic to the Brotherhood and its offshoots within the belly of the beast that constantly pushed back."
Gorka vowed to work outside the administration to seek the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist group, working with the White House, State Department, and Congress, as well as seeking to educate the general public on the threat posed by the group. "So the game's not over," he said.
Gorka denied he was fired, as several news outlets reported after his resignation was announced. He blamed the false reports on a low-level White House communications office staff member who falsely put out word that he did not leave voluntarily.
"I emailed Chief of Staff [John] Kelly after the Afghan speech the president gave last week," Gorka said. "I requested a meeting with him for this Monday to tender my resignation. On Friday afternoon I spoke to him on the phone and told him I had resigned as of that day, as of last Friday, and I reinforced that to him an email afterward. So those are the facts of the matter."
Trump telephoned him the day after the resignation to say he was very grateful for Gorka's support and the work he had done. The president also promised to "stick to his agenda," Gorka said.
Gorka said he told Trump he would continue to back the president. "I said in response to him that I will be supporting him on the outside."
One news report said Gorka resigned after Kelly informed him his interim security clearance would not be finalized.
Critics have said several key players in the White House were forced out by politically motivated security officials who used the security clearance system to prevent certain officials from receiving Top-Secret security clearances, a requirement for White House policy work.