Katharine Gorka, a political appointee at the Department of Homeland Security who has stirred controversy for her views on terrorism and her role in the department’s efforts to combat violent extremism in the US, is expected to be the new press secretary at Customs and Border Protection.
Acting CBP Commissioner John Sanders told CNN Tuesday that Gorka is expected to take the position and he advocated for her to join the agency.
The move comes as President Donald Trump continues his rhetoric against undocumented immigrants and the increasing number of migrants crossing the southern border and claiming asylum.
Customs and Border Protection is the agency responsible for policing the US borders and facilitating legal trade and travel. It is also the frontline agency dealing with the surge of migrants at the southern border. If Gorka steps into this new role, she will be taking on the public face of the agency at the center of the President’s attention, which has been struggling with capacity and resource issues.
The Department of Homeland Security has also seen a major turnover in senior staff in the wake of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s forced departure in April. Several CBP officials joined Kevin McAleenan at DHS headquarters when he was named acting Homeland Security secretary.
In response to a request for comment on her new post, Gorka told CNN Tuesday, “I am honored for this opportunity to serve at CBP.”
Gorka is married to Sebastian Gorka, the former deputy assistant to Trump, who was an outspoken and combative defender of the President’s national security agenda, known for his dire warnings of Islamic terrorism while writing for Breitbart.
Sebastian Gorka left the White House in August 2017, in the wake of chief White House strategist Steve Bannon’s forced departure.
Both Gorkas wrote for Breitbart, where Bannon served as an executive before and after his time at the White House.
In a 2014, Breitbart story, Katharine Gorka, under the name Katie Gorka, wrote that “Presidents Bush and Obama both publicly declared Islam to be a religion of peace, which has struck a sour chord for many. “
“To date, American and Western leaders have preemptively shut down any debate within Islam by declaring that Islam is the religion of peace and that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” she wrote.
In another 2014 article, she wrote that the Obama administration “narrowly defined the enemy as only the most violent jihadists: first Al Qaeda and now ISIS.”
“This inaccurate assessment of the enemy has its roots in left-wing theories about social movements,” she wrote in part.
Gorka has supporters within the administration and department and was recommended by various people for a DHS policy job. “She was very good at her job and is very intelligent,” said the senior official about her time at DHS.
Gorka, who has been with the Trump administration since its beginning, was under consideration to lead the new DHS terrorism prevention office, but was not offered the position, according to two sources. An administration official said DHS did not want her past controversies to be a distraction from the work of the department.
While at DHS, she worked in the policy office on what is known as “countering violent extremism” issues, according to the official. Countering violent extremism efforts have historically been associated with preventing individuals from radicalizing and joining or carrying out attacks on behalf of Islamic terror groups, but some activity has been focused on thwarting threats from domestic terror movements, like white nationalist extremists.
In August 2017, the Huffington Post reported that Gorka and other aides worked to eliminate a DHS grant for Life After Hate, which would have been used to expand its outreach and intervention services for former white supremacists and others in the “criminal underground.” Earlier that summer, DHS, under the leadership of then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, cut some organizations out of grant money to counter violent extremism – including nearly a dozen that the Obama administration considered worthy of receiving the funds.
A DHS official also previously told the Huffington Post that the department, and Gorka, “has a productive relationship with (Life After Hate) and has recently met and participated in events with its new leadership.”
A DHS spokesperson told CNN, “Katie has been a valuable member of the DHS team, helping to advance the department’s mission of preventing targeted violence and countering terrorism, regardless of ideology. We look forward to her continued service with the department in her new position at CBP as we work to secure the border and enforce our nation’s immigration laws.”
In March, the legal watchdog group Democracy Forward sued the department for records detailing Gorka’s role as a senior adviser at DHS, after it was unsuccessful with a Freedom of Information Act request.
“The public deserves to know what Katharine Gorka is doing at DHS, but the Trump administration isn’t saying,” said Democracy Forward spokeswoman Charisma Troiano at the time. “We’re suing to find out whether her extreme and biased views are driving Homeland Security resources away from real threats.”
Troiano said that the organization has yet to receive records and the lawsuit is ongoing.
Earlier this year, American Oversight also requested records from the department for Gorka “to shed light on DHS counterterrorism efforts.”
“Katharine Gorka, an advisor in DHS’s policy office has a long history of working with far-right national security groups, and her writings have been described as anti-Muslim in sentiment,” wrote Executive Director Austin Evers in a letter to DHS in January.
It is unclear if the press secretary role has been finalized or when Gorka will begin at CBP. The agency’s last press secretary left in March to join the communications team at the Environmental Protection Agency.
CNN’s David Shortell and Jenny Hansler contributed to this story.