President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday night to fire Chris Krebs as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency brought a mix of responses from the secretaries of state with whom Krebs worked closely on election security in 2018 and 2020.
Some secretaries of state were quick to denounce Trump’s move, which came two weeks after Election Day, a period during which Krebs frequently promoted CISA’s “Rumor Control” website, designed to push back on waves of rumors and misinformation about how the presidential election was conducted, with many of those baseless claims about widespread fraud being pushed by Trump himself.
“It’s a dark day when Director Krebs has been fired by tweet for adhering to the truth,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos wrote on Twitter. “We have enough work fending off election disinformation campaigns from foreign bad actors without having to fight those same battles within our own government.”
And Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said Krebs’ “ouster is bad for our country’s election cybersecurity, for our national security, and for the goal of free and fair elections untainted by the interference of foreign adversaries.”
In a direct message to StateScoop, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wrote that the White House’s dismantling of CISA’s leadership — along with Krebs, the White House has also dismissed his deputy, Matt Travis, and CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity, Bryan Ware — will “immediately, negatively impact our national security and Americans’ safety.”
“Chris Krebs spoke truth to power, the 2020 elections were safe, secure and legitimate,” California’s Alex Padilla said.
Condos, Merrill, Benson and Padilla are all Democrats. Yet in sticking up for a political appointee hired — and now fired — by a president of the opposing political party, they also cited what they described as a nonpartisan approach toward election security.
“[Krebs] is the ultimate, consummate professional and leaders on both sides of the aisle appreciate his integrity, experience, and commitment to democracy,” Benson said.
That effort has been visible over the past few years, especially among organizations like the National Associations of Secretaries of State, in which members once apprehensive about greater federal investment in their election operations have fostered strong working relationships with CISA.
NASS was one of several organizations that signed a statement last week issued by the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council — the body that governs the federal government’s oversight of election systems — describing the Nov. 3 election as “the most secure in American history.” That statement, which was also signed by CISA, state and local election directors and voting equipment vendors, also warned that while misinformation about the election would abound, officials had the “utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections.”
‘Here to do the job’
Krebs’ role was also widely appreciated inside the organizations that elected secretaries of state lead. A staff official in one secretary’s office said there was “no better cheerleader” for state and local election security than the now-former CISA director.
“I don’t think you would find anyone across the nation who felt Chris Krebs was doing anything other than the right things,” the state official said. “With the people who had been hired by CISA, even before in DHS, he has been such a trenchant and loyal supporter addressing real problems, identifying real cybersecurity and operational security gaps, lobbying to find resources.”
The official said his counterparts in other states felt similarly, and credited CISA from divorcing politics from the need to strengthen the security of election systems and other state and local government functions.
“I’m here to do the job, and Chris Krebs had that approach, regardless of the fallout,” the official said.
But the official also said the White House’s gutting of CISA’s leadership doesn’t come as a surprise, echoing reports last week that Krebs expected the ax to fall.
“I don’t think there isn’t someone who didn’t expect Krebs wouldn’t be shown the door, and isn’t also disappointed that it happened,” the official said. “I hope the gunsights don’t lower in the organization.”
Republican secretaries mostly silent
Still, the majority of secretaries of state reacting publicly to Krebs’ firing have been Democrats. Republican secretaries, many of whom had been affirming CISA’s pronouncements that the 2020 election was the most secure on record, have been mostly silent on Krebs.
“Chris Krebs has been a strong partner to me and my team, as well as state election officials across the nation, and I’m disappointed to see him go,” said Ohio’s Frank LaRose, the first Republican secretary of state to speak out on the matter. “CISA’s work hasn’t changed, however, and together we’ll continue on our shared mission to protect election systems from enemies, both foreign and domestic, just as we successfully did in this past election.”
But other Republican secretaries contacted by StateScoop declined to comment on Trump firing Krebs. “Pass,” a spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate wrote in an email.
The office of West Virginia’s Mac Warner demurred to the state’s post-election processes.
“At this time, Secretary Warner and our elections team are laser focused on getting the canvassing done in all 55 counties,” said Warner’s communications director, Mike Queen. “We have several close local races that may require recounts.”
This story has been updated.