Sebastian Gorka, a senior White House national security official, accused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of speaking out of turn regarding the possibility of a US military conflict with North Korea.
During an interview with BBC radio on Thursday, Gorka rebuffed Tillerson’s assertion on Wednesday that the US does not face an “imminent threat” from North Korea following President Donald Trump’s threats aimed at the nuclear-armed nation.
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson told reporters. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the US unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies.”
But Gorka, a controversial figure in the national security community, dismissed Tillerson’s authority on the subject.
“You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Gorka said in the interview, according to a recording obtained 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 said the president’s promise to meet North Korean aggression with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” should be taken as a military threat.
“If you threaten a nation, then what should you expect – a stiffly worded letter that would be sent by courier?” Gorka said. “Is that what the U.K. would do if a nation threatened a nuclear-tipped missile launched against any of the United Kingdom’s territories?”
He argued that US policy towards the rogue nation will not stay the course of previous administrations.
“North Korea has said they wish to annihilate the United States and use nuclear weapons. Sooner or later someone should take them seriously,” Gorka said, according to a part of the interview reported by Buzzfeed. “The Clinton administration did not do so. The Obama administration did not do so. That stopped on January the 20th. We are not giving in to nuclear blackmail any longer.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert responded to Gorka’s comments during a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, telling reporters that Tillerson’s statements should, in fact, be heeded.
“Should Tillerson be listened to?” a reporter asked.
“I should think so,” Nauert said. “He’s a cabinet secretary, he’s fourth in line to the presidency, he carries a big stick.”
Also on Thursday afternoon, Trump answered reporters’ questions at his New Jersey golf resort, where he is spending a 17-day “working vacation.”
In response to a question about the administration’s mixed messaging, Trump argued there was no contradiction.
“The people of our country are safe, our allies are safe,” Trump said. “And I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble.”
Later on Thursday, Gorka appeared on Fox News to elaborate on his comments. He argued that the “fake news industrial complex” had misrepresented his remarks, in which he actually said that it was inappropriate to ask the nation’s top diplomat about military issues.
“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 said. “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. It’s just absurd lack of understanding.”
Gorka praised Tillerson, calling him “amazing,” and added that “everybody should rest easy that this administration will protect you.”