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Election Security Czar Who Corrected Fraud Disinformation Is Fired By Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The federal official in charge of keeping the November 3 elections safe has seemingly been fired for keeping the November 3 elections safe. Christopher Krebs led a forceful campaign at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to counter rumors about voter fraud. That work took on new meaning as the president himself started to spread some of that disinformation. After Krebs issued a statement saying the election was the safest in American history, President Trump fired him. NPR's Miles Parks covers election security and is with us now. Good morning, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. Good morning.

MARTIN: What reason did the president give for firing Chris Krebs?

PARKS: So, as you mentioned, Krebs says this election was maybe the most secure in the nation's history, which is a line that, I should say, election officials and experts, you know, unanimously agree with. But President Trump does not share that viewpoint. In his tweets last night, he shared a number of debunked conspiracy theories about why he lost this election. And that difference of opinion specifically was why he says he fired Krebs.

MARTIN: So Krebs was the first person in a new job, right? He was the first director of the country's cybersecurity agency. Can you explain what they did and what he did in particular?

PARKS: Right. So over the past few years, the federal government has really completely overhauled its election security infrastructure to make it so counties and states could communicate a lot better. And Krebs has been at the head of that. He's also been at the head of this effort to kind of make the agency a clearinghouse for a lot of best practices within elections. Here he is in October warning that it takes a while for election results to be certified after Election Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER KREBS: So be patient. That's a lot of opportunity space for the bad guys, whoever they are, to come in and try to sow chaos, sow doubt in the integrity of the process. And remember, attempts to delegitimize the election aren't going to stop on Election Day.

PARKS: You know, that clip I feel like is a little bit ominous considering the sorts of misinformation that President Trump and his campaign have been spreading over the last couple weeks. But Krebs was respected by Republicans and Democrats. You know, on Capitol Hill, a number of Republicans have come out in support of Krebs just in the last 24 hours. And one official I talked to who worked with Krebs, he said that Krebs was easily the most competent and able of any political appointee they had worked with. So that kind of gives you an impression.

MARTIN: So after Election Day passed, I mean, the president has refused to concede. He has still refused to concede. How has the agency's work around election security changed as a result?

PARKS: Yeah. Misinformation became a much bigger component. A few weeks back, Krebs' agency started this website called Rumor Control, which was aimed at fighting bad voting information. Now, Krebs has been completely adamant that there was never any plan with this website to specifically fact-check Trump. But since the Trump campaign has been the largest spreader of voting misinformation lately, that's essentially what this website was forced to focus on. The agency has been debunking many of the claims the president's lawyers have been trying to make in court and in public. So it's kind of hard to say that last night's outcome with Krebs being fired is a complete surprise, even to Krebs himself. Someone close to him told me that he knew that this Rumor Control website was a sort of calculated risk considering President Trump's false claims about voting.

MARTIN: So I want to shift our focus now and talk about Michigan, Miles, because this is part of the larger conversation about GOP efforts to at least stall or sometimes demand recounts of votes in certain states. Last night, the state's largest county did name Joe Biden the winner. But this was only after Republicans there tried to block the certification. Explain.

PARKS: Yeah. This is Wayne County, the county that encompasses Detroit. And basically, the two Republicans on this board of canvassers initially voted against certifying the results based on these sort of ambiguous security concerns they said they had. There's been no evidence of anything fraudulent happening here, and they backtracked within a couple hours, then voting unanimously to certify the results, reaching a compromise to request the secretary of state to conduct an audit on issues. The bottom line here - Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 100,000 votes, and there's still no evidence that anything nefarious happened in the state.

MARTIN: NPR's Miles Parks, thanks.

PARKS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.