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Why Trump fired the official charged with securing U.S. elections

On Tuesday night, President Trump fired Christopher Krebs, the top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security. The termination comes after Krebs, whose job it was to secure U.S. election systems, fact-checked Trump’s false claims of voting fraud. But Krebs had earned bipartisan support for his successful efforts, and his dismissal drew wide criticism. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The turnover of people in the Trump administration continues, and again raises some troubling questions.

    The latest, President Trump firing the top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs. It comes after Krebs, whose job it was to secure U.S. election systems, pushed back on false claims of fraud.

    William Brangham reports.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This new agency will ensure that we confront the full range of threats from nation-states, cyber-criminals and other malicious actors, of which there are many.

  • William Brangham:

    In 2018, President Trump signed legislation to fund the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, within the Department of Homeland Security.

    Its goal, to protect critical infrastructure, including the nation's election systems. The president named cybersecurity expert Christopher Krebs to be its director. Krebs had been serving within DHS at the time.

    Last month, just days before the election, Krebs told the "NewsHour" that CISA had come a long way.

  • Christopher Krebs:

    Well, we have just made remarkable progress. The evidence supports that. The security of these systems has improved. But, most importantly, the resilience of the system has dramatically improved.

  • William Brangham:

    The consensus among election officials and agencies across government is that, despite ongoing threats of disinformation, foreign interference, plus the pandemic, the 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history.

  • Benjamin Hovland:

    Director Krebs deserves an enormous amount of credit for his efforts, for his leadership in this space.

  • William Brangham:

    Ben Hovland is chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. He, too was nominated by President Trump.

    Hovland's commission studies and helps disseminate election system best practices.

  • Benjamin Hovland:

    One of the things that makes working on election issues difficult from the national level is the decentralized nature of our elections.

    And Director Krebs, I think, did a great job empowering his team to recognize that the 50 states each run elections in their own unique way. And so it was important to listen, to hear what their needs were, and try to provide that.

  • William Brangham:

    Dmitri Alperovitch is a co-founder of the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike. He worked with Krebs to improve the capabilities of local election officials to detect and withstand cyberattacks.

  • Dmitri Alperovitch:

    Well, one of the things that Chris was very passionate about is getting instrumentation in state systems and local municipalities that are running actually these election systems so that we would know if they're being attacked by foreign actors or domestic actors.

    And we worked very hard in the private sector to help him gain that level of instrumentation, so he would know and the rest of the federal government would know if those systems are being attacked and would be able to respond accordingly.

  • William Brangham:

    Most Republicans on Capitol Hill chose not to comment on Krebs' firing, but a notable few were critical.

    Here's GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois on CNN.

  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill:

    Chris Krebs said the election was secure. That's his job to say that. His job is to make sure that they're defending the elections. And, of course, that is counter to what the president is trying to say.

    So, I think that all feeds into why he's out there. And there's like a loyalty purge going on in the last month at the White House.

  • William Brangham:

    And Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas:

    It's the president's prerogative, but I think it just adds to the confusion and chaos. But we know that there were people who tried to influence the election. And the irony is, we have really done a much better job in 2018 and 2020.

  • William Brangham:

    Many believe Krebs was fired because of his agency's continuing effort to push back on false claims and rumors surrounding the election, some of which were created or repeated by President Trump.

    To fight disinformation, CISA ran this Web site called Rumor Control, batting down myths and lies about things like computer hacking or duplicate ballots or compromised voter rolls.

    But it was this joint statement put out by CISA six days ago that seemed to seal his fate. It read: "The November 3 election was the most secure in American history." And later, in bold, directly contradicting the president and his lawyers, it read: "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

    Last night, the president tweeted: "The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 election was highly inaccurate. Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated."

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