White House adviser Sebastian Gorka dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s apparent attempts to smooth over President Trump’s aggressive threats toward North Korea on Thursday. Hours later, however, Gorka claimed his anger was meant to be directed at journalists who “forced” Tillerson to answer questions about military policy.
“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Gorka said in an interview with BBC radio Thursday morning.
It was a surprising rebuke from a White House staffer of Gorka’s position aimed at America’s top diplomat — even considering Tillerson’s low favor among many in the Trump White House.
Gorka went on to say, according to audio of the BBC radio interview transcribed by the Washington Post: “It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. He said, ‘Woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States,’ and that is his portfolio. That is his mandate.”
“Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States, and it is his portfolio to handle those issues,” Gorka added.
Speaking To Fox News’ Liz Claman Thursday afternoon, though, Gorka said his ire was meant to be directed at journalists who “forced” Tillerson to answer questions about military policy, not Tillerson himself.
“I said for reporters to force our chief diplomat, the amazing Rex Tillerson, to give details of military options is nonsensical,” he said. “He is the Secretary of State. That means you don’t understand what the words secretaries of state means. It is fake news. Classic example.”
Claman prodded: “To some people, forget back-stabbing, it looks like you front-stabbed the secretary of state.”
“I was admonishing the journalists of the fake news industrial complex who are forcing our chief diplomat into a position where they are demanding he makes the military case for action when that is not the mandate of the secretary of state,” Gorka responded. “That’s why we have a Department of Defense. If a journalist doesn’t know the difference between the secretary of state and the Department of Defense, they should hand in their credentials.”
He added: “When reporters try to force him to make statements regarding military options, they have no idea what they’re talking about and if they think that’s a story, they’re not journalists.
“He didn’t look like he was forced,” Claman remarked before moving on.
Asked about Gorka’s initial statement to BBC Thursday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Tillerson and Mattis “have a good, close, cooperative relationship” and that “we do diplomacy here out of this building. Secretary Tillerson has not spoken about U.S. military capabilities.”
“He’s a Cabinet secretary,” she added. “He’s the fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.”
On Tuesday, during a vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said nuclear threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” He reportedly made up the remark on the spot.
Speaking to reporters later, Tillerson seemed to try to lessen the blow of Trump’s threat, saying the President was just “sending a message in language Kim Jong-un can understand.”
The comment to BBC is especially rich coming from Gorka, whose credentials as a so-called counterterrorism expert have repeatedly come into question. Andrew Reynolds, a professor at the University of North Carolina who spoke to Rolling Stone about Gorka’s academic background, said of the White House adviser’s Ph.D. dissertation: “Gorka’s thesis is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University.”
Nauert said of her relationship with Gorka: “I don’t work with Dr. — with Sebastian Gorka. I have known him from a previous life and a previous career but I have not spoken to him about the comments he made.”
On Thursday, according to the Associated Press, Trump continued to pile on, reportedly telling the AP that his “fire and fury” threat wasn’t strong enough.
This post has been updated.