Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was scheduled to speak with the government’s top cybersecurity official on Wednesday. But the night before, Christopher Krebs was cast out of a job.
“I was going to tell him thank you for a good job” helping to secure the 2020 election, Capito (R-W.Va.) said after checking her schedule to see if the call was still on. “I’m still going to tell him that — just not today.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening fired Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, after he spent days actively debunking the president’s baseless voter fraud claims. And in a rare turn in the Trump era, Senate Republicans across the spectrum — from Trump allies to critics of the president — criticized the decision.
Capito said she was “disappointed” and flummoxed by Trump’s personnel decisions: “I can’t explain it.” Others were more blunt.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Trump’s move a “terrible mistake,” adding that Krebs is “an extraordinary talent who does a superb job overseeing the protection of our cyber capabilities.”
The firing also set off renewed concerns that the president would spend his final weeks in the White House impulsively ousting officials who crossed him and making erratic policy shifts that could not be easily undone.
“It’s the president’s prerogative, but I think it just adds to the confusion and chaos,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters. “And I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like some return to a little bit more of a — I don’t even know what’s normal anymore.”
In fact, few Republicans took issue with Krebs at all. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a strong supporter of the president, said Krebs did an “outstanding” job in his role because of the lack of foreign interference in the 2020 campaign.
Krebs’ firing comes amid a purge of senior officials viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president, who is actively preventing President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team from beginning the transfer of power. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was the first to go, and there are broader fears Trump could fire CIA Director Gina Haspel or FBI Director Christopher Wray next.
“If it looks like there’s just a flurry of them, it will raise more questions,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) acknowledged.
And while Republicans are expressing some concern with the moves, they also acknowledge there is little they can do to stop the president in his final 63 days in office.
“Look, I think we’re at a period in time, the president has a decision who he wants to have in office and who he doesn’t have in office,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said of Krebs. “From everything I saw, it appeared that he did an able job in a difficult and important role.”
Some GOP senators on Wednesday were reluctant to criticize Trump’s decision to fire Krebs, even as they praised his work atop CISA.
“The president doesn’t get to pick who works in my office. So we may have an opinion on our interactions with these individuals but at the end of the day the president gets to pick who serves in the executive branch,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Trump fired Krebs in a tweet that continued his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and pushed back on a recent statement by Krebs and other top officials asserting that the Nov. 3 election was “the most secure in American history.” Without evidence, Trump said that statement was “highly inaccurate” and, “therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated.”
The Senate confirmed Krebs to his post in June 2018 by voice vote, with no objections from senators. Krebs was the first director of the agency, which was established that year to oversee the federal government’s cybersecurity efforts.
In the days following the election, Krebs was publicly contradicting Trump’s baseless assertions of rampant voter fraud — both via his personal Twitter feed as well as a website set up by the agency dubbed “Rumor Control.” The platform has confronted head-on some of the most confounding conspiracy theories dominating the Trump legal team’s arguments, including unfounded claims of dead people voting and election machines “switching” votes from Trump to Biden.
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” Krebs and other officials said in a statement last week on the integrity of the 2020 vote.
Krebs’ ouster comes a week after the president fired Esper and a slew of Pentagon officials, in part due to their opposition to Trump’s swift reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq — which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans have also decried.
Haspel and Wray could also be fired over GOP objections due to their opposition to releasing information related to the 2016-era Russia probe, Meanwhile, Republicans are pleading for stability for the sake of an orderly transition to the Biden administration, with some beginning to call for the incoming president to receive intelligence briefings.
“There’s like a loyalty purge going on in the last month of the White House,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an occasional Trump critic, said Wednesday on CNN. “It’s bad.”
Not all Republicans are ready to cross the president.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Krebs in a statement Tuesday night as “a dedicated public servant who has done a remarkable job during a challenging time.” But he declined to weigh in on whether it was appropriate for Trump to fire him.
And some top GOP senators even saw Trump’s side of things. Homeland Security Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Krebs had done a “pretty good job” but that the president was right to be irked by his statements about the election.
“I don’t agree with his sweeping declarations that there’s no evidence. There’s plenty of evidence of irregularities that need to be tracked down,” Johnson said. “I can understand why it would probably upset the president.”
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.
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