WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Democratic congressman and three top Democratic senators wrote letters to President Donald Trump voicing concern over reports on the alleged membership of a White House counterterrorism adviser in a Hungarian nationalist group.
A letter dated March 16 by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and another Friday from Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranked Democrat in the Senate; Ben Cardin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. followed the publication this week of an article in the Daily Forward that quoted two senior members of the Historical Vitézi Rend group as saying that Sebastian Gorka, a native of Britain who was born to Hungarian immigrants, was a member of the far-right organization.
Nadler’s letter was addressed to Trump, and the letter from Cardin, Blumenthal and Durbin was addressed to the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly urging them to investigate the circumstances of Gorka’s path to U.S. citizenship, and whether he concealed his alleged membership in the group as part of his naturalization process.
Asked why the letter was addressed to Boente and not Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, a spokesman for Cardin said the senators did not believe Sessions “has the independence needed to investigate a White House official given his work on the campaign and close relationships with the president and White House senior staff.”
Officially registered in Hungary as a nonprofit in 1996, the group is a namesake of Vitézi Rend, a defunct order of merit that had existed as a state entity for 20 years until 1944 under the rule of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s pro-fascist leader. Vitezi Rend was disbanded, outlawed, and ceased to exist in the 1940s following the World War II defeat of the Hungarian allies of Nazi Germany.
In a statement published Thursday by Tablet, Gorka was quoted as writing, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend.”
The statement did not mention the Historical Vitézi Rend group.
The Forward notes the “Historical Vitézi Rend upholds all the nationalist and oftentimes racial principles of the original group as established by Horthy,” whose speeches are quoted on Historical Vitézi Rend websites.
Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, identified by the Forward as leaders of Vitézi Rend — ostensibly a reference to the namesake group rather than the original order — told its reporters that Gorka took an oath of loyalty to their organization.
The Historical Vitézi Rend group is one of two organizations that “claim to be the heirs to the original Vitézi Rend, holding the same nationalist and racist views as their predecessor,” Nadler wrote in his letter to Trump. Nadler said he was “extremely disturbed” by the information he read in the Forward.
Although Gorka has denied he is a member, “several leaders of the organization claim that he is a formal member and has sworn a lifelong oath of loyalty,” Nadler wrote.
Gorka, who was born in 1970, technically could not have been a member of the original Vitézi Rend, which is listed by the State Department as having been “Under the Direction of the Nazi Government of Germany.”
Still, Nadler in his letter echoed the claims made in the Forward article that Gorka’s alleged affiliation with the namesake group also means that “he would have been required to disclose this information on his immigration application, and on his application to be a naturalized U.S. citizen.”
Regardless of whether Gorka was “honest in his immigration and citizenship applications,” Nadler added, “if he does in fact have ties with the Historical Vitézi Rend, I hope that you would have no place for someone who shares that organization’s offensive views in your Administration.”
The letter from the Democratic senators cited as undergirding their concerns about Gorka an array of Whute House actions that have unsettled some Jews, including omitting the mention of Jews from a statement in January commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“We are particularly troubled by Dr. Gorka’s reported affiliation with an anti-Semitic organization because of the White House’s own checkered record on religious discrimination,” said the letter to Boente and Kelly.
“For the first time in decades, the White House’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the Jewish victims, an omission which Dr. Gorka publicly defended,” it said. “President Trump was slow to condemn the wave of attacks on Jewish community centers and has yet to condemn the surge in anti-Muslim bigotry. And the President has signed two executive orders, both of which have been blocked by federal courts, barring people from Muslim-majority countries and all refugees from entering the United States. The President’s orders are a notable departure from our nation’s bipartisan tradition of welcoming refugees, which was established in the aftermath of our tragic failure to provide safe haven to Jews who were fleeing the Holocaust.”