In a decision that received swift criticism from legal analysts, scholars, and elected officials alike, President Trump fired the nation’s top federal election security official Nov. 17, after he repeatedly knocked down the president’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
Christopher Krebs, who held the position of director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency until his firing via a tweet, was regarded as a highly respected member of the administration.
He spoke publicly for the first time since his dismissal with Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday night.
The lifelong Republican was appointed by Trump two years ago to lead the agency, which is responsible for securing computer systems in places where a breach may have dire consequences. Formerly the director of cybersecurity policy at Microsoft, Krebs was tasked with the job following Russia’s 2016 election interference campaign.
Krebs said while he’s not a public servant anymore, the conspiracy theories and falsehoods that are continuing to be peddled about the security of the election have motivated him to defend the integrity of the process.
“It’s hard once you take that oath to uphold and defend the constitution from threats foreign and domestic, it’s hard to walk away from that,” he said. “And if I can reinforce or confirm for one person that the vote was secure, the election was secure, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Paper ballots were CISA’s number one priority for the 2020 election: “Paper ballots give you the ability to…go back… and make sure that you got the count right,” says Chris Krebs. “95% of the ballots cast in the 2020 election had a paper record.” https://t.co/K5JX9epSTR pic.twitter.com/00hwGesjP0— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 30, 2020
For more than three years, Krebs said, his agency dedicated their time to gaming out “every possible scenario for how a foreign actor could interfere with an election.” Ultimately, his team shifted some of their focus to paper ballots.
“Paper ballots give you the ability to audit, to go back and check the tape and make sure that you got the count right,” Krebs said. “And that’s really one of the keys to success for a secure 2020 election. 95 percent of the ballots cast in the 2020 election had a paper record associated with it. Compared to 2016, about 82 percent.”
With a paper record, he explained, officials are granted the ability to prove that “there was no malicious algorithm or hacked software that adjusted the tally of the vote.”
Krebs pointed to Georgia as an example, which has machines that tabulate the vote. When the state was ordered to hold a hand recount, the outcome was consistent with the machine vote.
“That tells you that there was no manipulation of the vote on the machine count side. And so that pretty thoroughly, in my opinion, debunks some of these sensational claims out there — that I’ve called nonsense and a hoax, that there is some hacking of these election vendors and their software and their systems across the country,” Krebs said.
He added: “It’s — it’s just — it’s nonsense.”
On the day of the Nov. 3 election, Krebs organized a team in his command center to defend the electoral process. Among those included were the Department of Defense Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Secret Service, and representatives from the Election Assistance Commission, Krebs said.
Election equipment vendors — individuals on the ground who know if there are any issues with their systems — as well as representatives from state and local government were also present, he said.
There was no indication or evidence of “any sort of hacking or compromise of election systems” before or after the election, Krebs said.
After the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a joint statement with election security partners saying the 2020 presidential election was “the most secure in American history,” President Trump fired Chris Krebs in a tweet. https://t.co/oENGk1xDMs pic.twitter.com/xNlI3tCDog— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 30, 2020
Despite this — and facing a growing reality he had lost the election — Trump began his campaign to overturn the results on Nov. 5, throwing out baseless accusations that it was rigged. And only days after his remarks at the White House, the president tweeted that machines from the Dominion Voting Systems had deleted millions of votes.
In response, CISA and its partners issued the following statement: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes or changed votes or was in any way compromised.”
Krebs said in the interview that he still “stands by that.”
While Krebs said he doesn’t know if he was “necessarily surprised” by the president’s decision to terminate him, it wasn’t how he “wanted to go out.”
“I think the thing that upsets me the most about that is I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my team. And I’d worked with them for three and a half years, in the trenches,” Krebs said, appearing to get teary-eyed. “Building an agency, putting CISA on the national stage. And I love that team.”
Since Joe Biden was declared the president-elect on Nov. 7, the Trump administration has engaged in a number of efforts to change the outcome of the election, with lawyers filing a plethora of suits — without evidence of fraud — and demanding recounts in key states. The vast majority of the court rulings have not gone in the president’s favor — often met with blistering dismissals from the judge in charge.
“What I saw was an apparent attempt to undermine confidence in the election, to confuse people, to scare people,” says the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency about Rudy Giuliani’s unsubstantiated election claims. https://t.co/oZQr1p6Zwk pic.twitter.com/qWEwUkbQW0— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 30, 2020
When Krebs watched Rudy Giuliani speak at the Republican National Headquarters on Nov. 19 — where he alleged election fraud as a brown liquid dripped down the sides of his face — Krebs said he found the act “upsetting” for all it stood for in his eyes.
“What I saw was an apparent attempt to undermine confidence in the election, to confuse people, to scare people. It’s not me, it’s not just CISA,” Krebs said. “It’s the tens of thousands of election workers out there that had been working nonstop, 18-hour days, for months. They’re getting death threats for trying to carry out one of our core democratic institutions, an election.”
He added: “And that was, again, to me, a press conference that I just — it didn’t make sense. What it was actively doing was undermining democracy. And that’s dangerous.”
Despite all the “farcical claims” being peddled by Trump and his team, Krebs said that the proof the election ran orderly and smoothly is “in the ballots.”
“The recounts are consistent with the initial count, and to me, that’s further evidence, that’s confirmation that the systems used in the 2020 election performed as expected, and the American people should have 100 percent confidence in their vote,” he said.
The presidential electors will cast their ballots on Dec. 14, — even though Trump has vowed he won’t concede.
Krebs told “60 Minutes” that it was ironic the disinformation campaign surrounding the election came not from foreign agents as feared, but from the White House itself.
“There is no foreign power that is flipping votes. There’s no domestic actor flipping votes,” Krebs said. “I did it right. We did it right. This was a secure election.”