President Trump has fired the nation’s top election security official, Christopher Krebs, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Trump announced his decision Tuesday night via Twitter.
Krebs, a Trump appointee and former senior counselor at DHS, is widely regarded for his knack of avoiding partisan politics, which is said to have earned him vast credibility in Democratic and Republican circles alike at the state and national level.
“Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow,” tweeted Krebs, having overseen a dramatic overhaul of election systems across the country, fortifying them again ransomware attacks and foreign intrusion, to widely acclaimed success.
Trump’s announcement comes as the president and his allies are busy disputing, without merit, the validity of the 2020 race, launching unsupported legal challenges in states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, and purposely stoking suspicion and anger around the election process.
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“Chris Krebs is an extraordinary public servant and exactly the person Americans want protecting the security of our elections,” said Sen. Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “It speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth.”
In October, Krebs oversaw the launch of the CISA website Rumor Control to help voters “distinguish between rumors and facts on election security issues.” The facts laid out by the site have at times conflicted with the baseless claims of the Trump campaign and its surrogates.
Soon after the election, for example, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. Matt Gaetz, a top ally on Capitol Hill, steered followers online to a Breitbart article about “dead people” on Pennsylvania’s voter rolls. “The dead vote appears to have swung overwhelmingly for Joe Biden,” Gaetz tweeted.
CISA’s Rumor Control website bluntly notes that people routinely die and that the deceased are moved off voter rolls as soon as possible. Election integrity safeguards, such as signature matching and database checks, “protect against voter impersonation and voting by ineligible persons.”
“Taken out of context,” CISA says, “some voter registration information may appear to suggest suspicious activity, but are actually innocuous clerical errors or the result of intended data practices.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, another close Trump ally, also claimed on Fox News that evidence existed of dead people voting in Pennsylvania. A Republican co-chair in charge of Philadelphia’s elections, Al Schmidt, said Wednesday that those claims “have no basis in fact at all.” (Trump later attacked Schmidt on Twitter, calling him a “so-called Republican.”)
The White House has demanded that CISA edit or remove information from the Rumor Control website, according to Reuters, which reported that Krebs had “drawn the ire” of the White House over its publishing. Reuters also reported that Krebs was expecting to be forced out, citing associates who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Rumor Control, meanwhile, was the third most visited U.S. government website in the small hours of the morning Wednesday, as first noted by Politico’s Eric Geller.
In a tweet on Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden said that Krebs was a “trusted source of election security information,” and said his firing by Trump suggested the president is “preparing to spread lies about the election from a government agency.”
DHS’s council on election cybersecurity and its industry-led partner organization said in a joint statement last week that the 2020 presidential race was “the most secure in American history.”
“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too,” the groups said.
Bob Kolasky, who worked directly under Krebs at CISA, personally signed the statement.
The White House forced out two top DHS employees last week in a purge of government officials viewed, according to the Washington Post, as “lacking complete loyalty” to the president. Bryan Ware, a senior policy aide at CISA, was among the two who left under pressure.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, framed the president’s “cleaning house” at CISA last week as a “national security threat.”
Thompson and Rep. Lauren Underwood, chairwoman of the House cybersecurity, infrastructure protection & innovation subcommittee, said in a joint statement late Tuesday that Trump’s decision to fire Krebs “makes America less safe.” The went on to commend Krebs for his service, putting “national security ahead of politics” and “refusing to cave to political pressure.”
“The President’s unsubstantiated tweets this evening do nothing to defend our state and local governments and critical infrastructure against malicious cyber campaigns from Russia, China, and Iran. And they do nothing to improve the security of our elections,” they said.