Donald Trump fires election security chief because he said US vote was secure

Donald Trump with Christopher Krebs in 2018

Credit: REUTERS

US Election Article Bar

President Trump has fired the director of the federal agency that vouched for the reliability of the 2020 US election.

Mr Trump sacked Christopher Krebs in a tweet on Tuesday night, saying his recent statement defending the security of the election was "highly inaccurate".

Mr Krebs last week issued a statement from a coalition of federal and state officials in which they said they had no evidence that votes were compromised or altered the election and said the vote was "the most secure in American history".

Shortly after Mr Trump fired him, Mr Krebs tweeted in defiance, saying "We did it right":

Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomrorow. #Protect2020

— Chris Krebs (@C_C_Krebs) November 18, 2020

The Trump campaign continues to push false claims of widespread electoral fraud and on Tuesday Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, appeared in court in Pennsylvania to fight a long-shot legal challenge.

The firing of Mr Krebs, a Trump appointee and director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa), comes as Mr Trump is refusing to recognise the victory of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and removing high-level officials seen as insufficiently loyal.

He also fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper last week, part of a broader shake-up that puts Trump loyalists in senior Pentagon positions.

Mr Krebs, a former Microsoft executive, ran Cisa from its creation in the wake of Russian interference with the 2016 election and during the November election. He won bipartisan praise as Cisa co-ordinated federal, state and local efforts to defend electoral systems from foreign or domestic interference.

Christopher Krebs giving evidence to Congress in October when he expressed total confidence in the US electoral system

Credit: AP

He kept a low profile even as he voiced confidence before the November vote and, afterward, knocked down allegations that the count was tainted by fraud.

At times, he seemed to be directly repudiating Mr Trump, a surprising move from a component of the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that has drawn criticism for seeming to be too closely allied with the president’s political goals.

Cisa issued statements dismissing claims that large numbers of dead people could vote or that someone could change results without detection.

This is the tweet in which Mr Trump fired Mr Krebs: 

…votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more. Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2020

Mr Krebs avoided ever directly criticising the president and tried to stay above the political fray, even as he worked to contradict misinformation coming from the president and his supporters. "It’s not our job to fact check the president," he said at a briefing with reporters on the eve of the election.

Cisa works with the state and local officials who run US elections as well as private companies that supply voting equipment to address cybersecurity and other threats while monitoring balloting and tabulation from a control room at its headquarters near Washington. It also works with industry and utilities to protect America’s industrial base and power grid from threats.

The agency enjoys a good reputation among its core constituency – the state and local election officials who rely on its advice and services at a time of near-constant cyberattack – as well as on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers recently proposed an increase of its annual budget of about $2 billion.

2020 Election

Amid recent reports that Mr Krebs feared he might be fired, Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, had said he was concerned and sent a text to the director to ask him if he was OK. The response was, in effect, "for now", the Mississippi Democrat said.

"It’s a shame if someone with his talent is all of a sudden, muzzled," Mr Thompson said. "I have not seen a partisan bone in his body. He’s been a consummate professional."

Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat who focuses on cybersecurity issues, had called on his Republican colleagues to stand up for him before he could be removed from his post. "Chris Krebs and Cisa have done so well under his leadership because he and his team have kept their heads down and done the job they were tasked with doing and not gotten caught up in partisan politics," Mr Langevin said.

Read more: What happens if Donald Trump refuses to concede after losing the US election?

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