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(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump deepened his purge of officials who have contradicted his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, firing a top cybersecurity expert whose agency called the Nov. 3 election “the most secure in American history.”
In a tweet Tuesday evening, Trump said he was finished with Christopher Krebs -- the former Microsoft Corp. executive who became the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA.
“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,” Trump tweeted, adding that he was terminating Krebs “effective immediately.”
Trump’s claims about the election haven’t been substantiated, and state election officials have refuted them. And while legal challenges for Trump have failed in key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona, the president has continued to claim that the election, which he lost to President-elect Joe Biden, was “rigged.”
Krebs was nominated in 2018 by Trump to a top cybersecurity post and took over CISA -- part of the Department of Homeland Security -- later that year. His firing -- which many, including Krebs himself, had expected -- came after business hours and capped a day of setbacks and controversy in the efforts by Trump and his supporters to challenge the election’s results.
In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court rejected his campaign’s key argument that that Republican vote observers were kept too far away to properly monitor ballot-counting, while in Michigan, GOP officials stonewalled the certification of the election outcome in the greater Detroit area before agreeing to certify the results.
Leading up to the election, Krebs used CISA’s website to debunk claims of voter fraud peddled by the president and his supporters.
The CISA site Rumor Control sought to dispel misinformation about the 2020 election and included a video featuring Krebs. The site challenged allegations that votes had been cast on behalf of dead people and that “secret” watermarks on ballots were helping audit illegal votes. It was still active on Wednesday morning.
His departure comes as other key officials in his agency, and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, stepped down amid a broader purge by Trump in the wake of the election.
Bryan Ware, assistant director for cybersecurity at CISA, resigned on Nov. 12 after about two years at the agency. In addition, Valerie Boyd, the assistant secretary for international affairs at DHS, has also left. Matthew Travis, Krebs’s deputy, resigned late on Nov. 17 after being informed he would not assume charge of CISA, according to three people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak publicly. Brandon Wales, a career bureaucrat and third in line behind Krebs, is now leading the agency, the people said.
Matthew Masterson, a CISA senior adviser on election security, suggested in a tweet early Wednesday that Krebs’s firing wouldn’t deter the agency.
Krebs, who couldn’t be reached for comment, enjoyed bipartisan support for his role in helping run secure U.S. elections in 2018 and this year. Some members of Congress reacted angrily to news that he had been fired.
“By firing Mr. Krebs for simply doing his job, President Trump is inflicting severe damage on all Americans -- who rely on CISA’s defenses, even if they don’t know it,” said Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine and co-chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said Krebs “did a really good job.” “He obviously should not be fired.”
Representative Adam Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, praised Krebs’s efforts to safeguard elections and “inform the American people about what was true and what was not.”
“Instead of rewarding this great service, President Trump is retaliating against Director Krebs and other officials who did their duty. It’s pathetic,” Schiff said.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the decision to remove Krebs, claiming without evidence that he had tweeted multiple inaccurate statements and saying she believed his statements were “animated by something” like “a partisan agenda or personal grievance.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing in 2018, Krebs said one of his top priorities was “enhancing the resilience of our nation’s election systems.”
As speculation mounted that he could lose his job, Krebs didn’t back off. In a tweet from his personal account after he was fired, he said, “We did it right.”
(Updates with resignation of Krebs deputy in 10th paragraph.)
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