President Trump’s abrupt firing Tuesday of the country’s top election security official who publicly said Trump lost to president-elect Joe Biden in an election drew outrage from Massachusetts political science scholars and officials.
Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, had also said the Nov. 3 election was reliable and free of interference. Trump announced his firing on Twitter Tuesday night.
Krebs responded a short time later with a tweet that said, “Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomrorow. #Protect2020”
Though other presidents have fired those they considered disloyal, and previous election results have been disputed, there are few parallels to Trump’s firing of Krebs simply for telling the truth, academics said.
“This move is that of a spoiled child who didn’t get what they wanted for their birthday, only the American people are the ones suffering" said Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at UMass Boston.
Michael D. Siegel, director of cybersecurity at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said in an e-mail, “A very talented person was fired for no good reason. He worked hard to protect everyone’s vote.”
Trump, who has refused to concede the election despite results and statements from Republican and Democratic state election officials that show Biden won, fired Krebs Tuesday evening in a pair of tweets that falsely said “there were massive improprieties and fraud — including dead people voting.”
Twitter tagged both tweets with the message, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
...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
Daphna Renan, a professor at Harvard Law School, said the firing was “appalling — but, unfortunately, no longer surprising.”
“Constitutional democracy depends on the integrity and leadership of officials like Christopher Krebs,” Renan said in an e-mail. “Regretfully, at the moment, it depends on their heroism as well in response to a reckless president intent on undermining our democracy.”
US Senator Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, weighed in on Twitter, posting a news report about the firing with the message, “Donald Trump is a criminal.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Cambridge Democrat, said on Twitter that Krebs was “fired because he did his job to protect our elections and stood up to Trump’s conspiracy theories. This is a disgusting abuse of power by a weak and desperate President who undermines our democracy and national security.”
Christopher Krebs got fired because he did his job to protect our elections and stood up to Trump's conspiracy theories. This is a disgusting abuse of power by a weak and desperate President who undermines our democracy and national security. https://t.co/T6MTiNfvbs— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 18, 2020
Peter Ubertaccio, an associate professor of political science at Stonehill College in Easton, said Krebs was "essentially being fired for tweeting the equivalent of ‘the sky is blue.’ "
“This isn’t just a disagreement on policy,” Ubertaccio said. “It is a bit chilling to see a president willing to take this action in his last two months in office, firing people who are simply repeating something that is true.”
He said he could not point to any historical parallels to Trump’s firing of Krebs.
“He has the constitutional authority to commit an action like this, so he’s not violating the law. He’s violating a mode of behavior, and in this case a standard of truth,” Ubertaccio said. “It’s dangerous because he continues to deny reality, and it’s dangerous because he’s convinced millions of people … that he’s a truth teller.”
Donna Halper, an associate professor of political communication and media studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, said Trump’s firing of Krebs was “outrageous.”
“This reminds me of what President Trump did to Alexander Vindman and … various other folks whose big crime was telling the truth,” Halper said, referring to the former National Security Council official who testified against the president in his impeachment hearings and was later fired by Trump.
“It concerns me that Mr. Trump could do a tremendous amount of damage in the next few weeks,” she added later. “He seems to be more motivated by pettiness and score-settling than he does in caring about democracy. He seems to be more motivated by making his base happy than by telling them the truth, and the truth is he lost.”
O’Brien said election fraud is very rare in the United States, but some Republicans have repeatedly raised the specter of fraud, threatening to undermine public confidence in the US system of elections. Trump’s firing of Krebs, she said, was an unusually blatant effort to preserve the illusion of an alternate reality in which Trump won the election.
“It continues to strike me why people stick with him — he will turn on you,” O’Brien said of Trump. “This individual did their job, delivered for the country during a pandemic, and because our president doesn’t like the results, he’s being fired.”