Report

Trump Ousts Cybersecurity Chief Over Election Claims

The outgoing president continues to spread falsehoods about fraud, even as the recently fired Chris Krebs calls the elections ‘the most secure’ in history.

This article is part of The Biden Transition, Foreign Policy’s ongoing coverage of how U.S. President-elect Joe Biden builds a new White House administration—and what the new team’s policies might be.

Christopher C. Krebs, director of the Homeland Security Department's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 14, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Christopher C. Krebs, director of the Homeland Security Department's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Outgoing President Donald Trump fired the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity chief in a tweet on Tuesday evening, falsely claiming that Chris Krebs had covered up improprieties and fraud in the 2020 U.S. election.

Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, was fired by tweet late Tuesday, just days after the former Microsoft employee said there was no evidence that any voting system used in 2020 was compromised, lost, or involved altered ballots, and that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history.” Reuters reported last week that the top election security official had expected to be fired. 

Trump has continued to insist, with no evidence, that his resounding election defeat was due to fraud and voting irregularities.

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraudincluding 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,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday night. “Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.” (None of Trump’s claims have been verified by state election officials or courts.)

Krebs had drawn the ire of the White House with a CISA-run website known as Rumor Control that contradicted election misinformation, such as notions of voter fraud pushed by Trump and unfounded concerns about the use of mail-in ballots that were widely used due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Krebs’ ousting marks the latest administration purge since major news networks and wire services called the presidential election for former Vice President Joe Biden. Last week, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a tweet after the Pentagon chief reportedly pushed back against White House plans to rapidly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. 

“Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow,” Krebs tweeted from his personal account after his dismissal.

The Trump team has also targeted officials in Krebs’s orbit who pushed for election security during the last presidential cycle. Last week, Assistant Director for Cybersecurity at CISA Bryan Ware confirmed he had handed in his resignation, and CyberScoop News reported on Tuesday after Krebs was pushed out that the White House had also fired his deputy, Matt Travis. 

Though experts said that Krebs was not expected to stay on through the transition to a Biden administration, his removal was met with pushback from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, many of whom saw him as a truth-teller in the face of persistent election disinformation from Trump and his surrogates. 

“The fact is that, since Election Day, President Trump has sought to delegitimize the election results by engaging in a disinformation campaign that could shatter public confidence in our elections for generations,” said Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity in a statement. “In firing Director Krebs for refusing to lend credibility to his baseless claims and conspiracy theories about voter fraud, the president is telling officials throughout the administration to put his political interests ahead of their responsibilities to the American people. That is not only disturbing, it is antidemocratic.”

“Chris Krebs is an extraordinary public servant and exactly the person Americans want protecting the security of our elections,” said Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “It speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth.”

“Chris Krebs did his job and did it extremely well,” said Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher. “The country is safer and our elections more secure from foreign interference because of his leadership at CISA.”

As an administration official, the White House could block Krebs from testifying before Congress. Now, as a private citizen, he can testify freely if called.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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