Trump fired the administration’s top cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs on Tuesday evening, the latest example of Trump settling a score. He expressed displeasure that Krebs issued a statement that the 2020 election had been the most secure in history, a message that undercut Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about voting machine vulnerabilities and a “rigged” election.
The removal of Krebs followed the firing of Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTop cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a ‘mistake’ Top Democrat calls Trump’s Afghan drawdown ‘the right policy decision’ as others warn of ‘mistake’ MORE and raises the prospect that Trump will remove more officials, such as CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelTop cybersecurity official ousted by Trump McConnell: ‘Precipitous drawdown’ in Afghanistan, Iraq ‘a mistake’ Heads roll as Trump launches post-election purge MORE and FBI Director Christopher Wray, while at the same time signaling that anything regarded as disloyalty to Trump will result in punishment.
President-elect Biden has warned that Trump’s refusal to share information on national security and the coronavirus as part of a peaceful transition is threatening lives, while others have warned it cuts at the nation’s democratic norms.
“Loyalty is what matters most to the president. He’s always made that clear,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser. “Trump expects those around him to take an oath of loyalty and to live up to it. If they don’t, there’s consequences.”
“This isn’t the mafia, but staffers who Trump considers part of his presidential family shouldn’t expect to stay in their jobs long if he thinks they’ve been disloyal,” he continued. “Most of these people know this and were already looking for new jobs before they spoke up.”
Republicans have largely defended Trump’s right to pursue legal challenges around the election and downplayed the potential consequences of his rhetoric casting doubt on the result. But a few cracks have emerged in the GOP as the firings continue.
Trump also seems more focused on taking new actions as president that would meet earlier campaign promises, even if doing so could put him in conflict with powerful Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Transfer of power will happen on time On The Money: Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled | Economists warn of lag time between vaccine and recovery | Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief McConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures MORE (R-Ky.).
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced drawdowns of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite opposition from the Senate GOP leader and other members of the Republican Party. Trump campaigned in 2016 and 2020 on bringing U.S. forces home from prolonged overseas conflicts like the 19-year-old war in Afghanistan.
“Four years ago, President Trump ran on a promise to put a stop to America’s endless wars,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters following the Pentagon’s announcement. “President Trump is keeping that promise to the American people.”
Trump signed an executive order last week prohibiting Americans from investing in firms the U.S. government says are linked to the Chinese military, in keeping with his efforts to apply pressure to Beijing. The administration is also preparing to move forward with a “most favored nation” proposal that would lower the cost of certain Medicare drugs, and the president is expected to issue executive action further curtailing the use of H-1B work visas.
There had long been talk that Trump could look to dismiss Esper, Wray or Haspel before the end of his first term. Esper’s ouster was followed by a broader leadership shake-up in which Trump loyalists were installed in top posts at the Pentagon.
Krebs expected to be fired by the White House as soon as last week, after a webpage he used to debunk conspiracies around the election and voter fraud attracted considerable attention. In firing Krebs, Trump voiced disagreement with a statement issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the agency led by Krebs, that declared the 2020 election the “most secure in American history.”
Some Republican lawmakers and former officials spoke out against Trump in the wake of Krebs’s firing, while others stopped short of criticizing Trump while praising Krebs’s work.
“There is no reason to decapitate your national security team with less than 10 weeks to go until the transition,” John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a ‘mistake’ China and Taiwan: Can Biden be like Ike? Bolton: Trump’s Pentagon shakeup ‘destructive’ MORE, Trump’s former national security adviser who has since become a critic of the president, said during a Washington Post event Wednesday. “That will inevitably cause disruptions in the agencies themselves, let alone their ability to hand off smoothly.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who repeatedly declined to take reporters’ questions at the White House on Wednesday, affirmed during a television appearance that Krebs was fired because he said that the election was secure.
She recited a litany of complaints about the electoral process, such as uncounted ballots in Georgia and a pile of affidavits in Michigan, which failed to support Trump’s claims that there was widespread fraud in the election.
“To come out and say that it’s the most secure election in American history, that’s just not an accurate statement and it seems like a partisan attempt to just hit back at the president as he pursues important litigation,” McEnany said on “Fox & Friends.”
Trump has long held grudges against those he feels have been insufficiently loyal, and his anger could extend beyond Washington, D.C., as he seeks to solidify his grip on the party moving forward.
The president has lashed out at Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, after he repeatedly stood by the state’s handling of its elections, and Trump has increasingly started to target Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia’s elections chief caught in GOP crosshairs Loeffler and Warnock agree to December debate Trump rails against Georgia recount process MORE (R) for declining to step in.
Meanwhile, Republicans have expressed concerns about the impact of Trump’s attacks on the electoral process on the Senate runoff in Georgia given the degree to which it has sowed divisions in the GOP.
“There’s just people who are really angry and they’re being spun up,” Raffensperger told The Hill. “It’s really the spinners that should be ashamed for playing with people’s emotions. Politicians of both sides should never play with people’s emotions. It’s one thing to motivate people, I get that. But to spin people up and play with their emotions, it’s emotional abuse and they ought to grow up and start acting with integrity.”
Jonathan Easley contributed.
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