President Trump fired another high-ranking administration official via Twitter on Tuesday night, ousting Chris Krebs from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Krebs was the senior most cybersecurity official tasked with securing the presidential election from foreign or domestic interference. But when Krebs released a report claiming November’s election to be the “most secure in American history,” Trump recoiled.
The President continues to insist that he will ultimately be declared the winner of the election, despite projections by nearly every reputable news outlet to the contrary. It’s an outcome already recognized by the country’s major allies abroad. But Trump claims that, due to widespread “voter fraud” and general “rigging,” the projections are not to be trusted.
Fortunately, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has spent years preparing for this election, especially in the shadow of 2016. In that election, every United States intelligence agency concurred that the Russian government had interfered with the process, potentially effecting the outcome. But last week, a broad committee within DHS announced its assessment that 2020 had been free of any systemic security risks. That was the last straw for the President.
A little after 7 PM on Tuesday, he tweeted, “The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud – including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, ‘glitches’ in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more.” (Note that none of the claims in this tweet have been corroborated, while the DHS has unilaterally rejected them).
Trump concluded his tweet by saying Krebs “has been terminated” as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The President had personally appointed Krebs to that post just two years ago.
The firing of Chris Krebs triggered instant backlash in the national security community and across Washington. The 43-year-old former Microsoft exec enjoys support from many in the nation’s capital, who praise his nonpartisan integrity. In particular, he has earned praise for prepping the States against potential Russian interference, and for setting a “rumor control” website to guard against disinformation. But while his agency does not believe that a massive onslaught of Russian interference affected this election, the disinformation spread by Moscow in 2016 seems to have found a new mouthpiece; the President of the United States. He continues to claim the election was illegitimate, despite his own government’s assessment that it was secure.
“Of all the things this president has done, this is the worst” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who oversees cyber-defense in Congress. “To strike at the heart of the democratic system is beyond anything we have seen from any politician.”
King acknowledged that Krebs was one of the most competent members of government, but lamented that perhaps his aptitude was his downfall. “In this administration, the surest way to get fired is to do your job,” he griped.
Meanwhile, even Republican members of Congress have bemoaned Krebs’s dismissal. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina called Krebs “a dedicated public servant who has done a remarkable job during a challenging time.” He added, “I’m grateful for all Chris has done.”
But for all the shock, Krebs himself may have suspected his removal was imminent.
“Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow“
As early as June, when Trump began to rev up warnings about a “rigged election” and “fraudulent ballots,” Krebs told colleagues that the President would probably fire him after the election. Krebs believed that his refusal to join Trump’s chorus of distrust in the electoral system earned him a spot on a list of disloyal officials. In fact, he believed Defense Secretary Mark Esper, FBI director Christopher Wray, and CIA chief Gina Haspel were all in for termination following the election.
Indeed, Trump did fire Esper over Twitter shortly after the Election Day, but with little explanation as to why. Wray and Haspel have retained their positions, for the time being. But Krebs, recognizing that he would be at odds with the President, chose to report his agency’s honest findings as opposed to bending to Trump’s conspiracy theories. His assurance that software glitches and dead voters made no substantial impact on the election’s outcome ultimately cost him his job.
As of Wednesday, Krebs has made no comment other than a brief tweet from his personal account: “Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow. #Protect2020.”