Former cyber official condemns Trump attorney for threats against Krebs, details ouster
Matthew Travis, the former deputy director of the nation’s top cybersecurity agency, on Tuesday defended former top cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs after a lawyer for President Trump’s reelection campaign called for violence against Krebs.
Travis’s comments came after Joe diGenova said during an interview this week on “The Howie Carr Show” that Krebs, who was fired by President Trump last month after pushing back against Trump’s claims of voter fraud during the recent election, should be “drawn and quartered” and “taken out at dawn and shot.”
“It’s egregious, I’m at a loss for words at how absurd those and offensive those comments were, I think that’s got to violate some type of code of professional conduct for the DC Bar, and I hope they look into it,” Travis, the former deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said at the Aspen Institute’s virtual Cyber Summit on Tuesday.
“He’s a small man with a small mind and bad mustache,” Travis said of diGenova, adding that he hoped diGenova would “take back those words, apologize and recognize that maybe the hot lights of the studio got to him.”
Krebs on Tuesday also responded to the threat from diGenova, saying during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” that he and his legal team were “taking a look at all our available legal opportunities” as a result of diGenova’s comments.
“We are a nation of laws, and I plan to take advantage of those laws,” Krebs said. “I’ve got an exceptional team of lawyers that win in court, and I think they’re probably going to be busy.”
The Trump attorney, diGenova, has since said that his remarks were meant as a joke and hyperbole, and that he wished Krebs no harm, according to a report in National Review.
“It was obvious that my remarks were sarcastic and made in jest,” diGenova said, according to remarks attributed to him by the Trump campaign, according to National Review.
Travis was forced by the Trump administration to step down the same night that Trump fired former CISA Director Krebs through a tweet, citing concerns over Krebs’s stance that the 2020 election was secure and accurate.
Travis confirmed Tuesday that Krebs did not know he had been fired until he saw Trump’s tweet, and that before Trump’s tweet, CISA had been “business as usual” that day following a busy election season.
“He was not called, he learned it, Chris keeps an eye on Twitter regardless of what is going on, so I think he did see it himself when it came across,” Travis said of Trump’s tweet removing Krebs from leadership of the agency.
Travis said Krebs encouraged him that night to not resign and to “stay and finish the fight with the team,” with Travis the automatic successor to lead CISA.
Travis was subsequently told by acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf that while the White House was not asking him to resign, it did not want Travis to run CISA, which led in less than two hours to Travis being asked to step down to clear the way for current acting CISA Director Brandon Wales to take over.
“It was a pretty frenetic Tuesday evening,” Travis said.
CISA, along with election officials at state and local levels, put out a statement last month declaring the 2020 election as “the most secure in American history,” and unequivocally stating that there was “no evidence” that any voting system was compromised or votes lost.
Trump and other Republicans have challenged this assertion, with Trump repeatedly citing concerns around votes being changed or other election meddling, and refusing to concede the election.
Travis noted that if Trump had won his campaign for reelection, “I suspect that Chris would have been paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and we’d be pointing to him saying this was a legitimate election.”
The agency leadership shakeup also included former top CISA official Bryan Ware resigning after being asked to step down by the White House the same week.
Travis noted that Wales was brought in as executive director by Krebs in case both top the agency’s top Senate-confirmed officials were removed.
“To Chris’s credit, I think he was playing in his head how this could unfold in a bad way, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to bring in Brandon Wales and create this executive director position, so if there was some quick removal of political leadership that it would stop pretty quickly,” Travis said.
Wales, who is set to speak at the Aspen Institute summit later this week, sought to reassure CISA employees in an email obtained by The Hill sent last month.
“A change in leadership is not a change in mission,” Wales wrote in the email. “It is vital for all of us to remain focused on our mission.”