Krebs emphasizes security of election as senators butt heads

Christopher Krebs, the nation’s former top cybersecurity official, told lawmakers Wednesday that he stood by his statements that the 2020 election was secure and safe from interference while warning against further attacks against the election outcome as senators locked horns over the issue.

“While elections are sometimes messy, this was a secure election, of that I have no doubt,” Krebs, who served as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a hearing on election security.

Krebs was fired by President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE last month after CISA, which is the key agency involved in coordinating election security, took steps to address disinformation and misinformation around the election, including by setting up a “rumor control page” and issuing a statement with election officials describing the 2020 election as the “most secure in American history.”

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Wednesday's hearing took place two days after the Electoral College voted to certify President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE's win in the presidential election, with Krebs calling on elected officials to stop casting doubt on election results for the sake of democracy.

“I think we’re past the point where we need to be having conversation about the outcome of this election, I think that continued assaults on democracy and the outcome of this election that only serve to undermine confidence in the process is ultimately corrosive to the institutions that support elections,” Krebs testified. 

When questioned about whether his job was ever threatened due to CISA’s rumor control page, which remains up, Krebs testified that some CISA employees were questioned about certain posts by administration officials, but that he told employees that if “anyone had an issue with that content, they could come talk to me.”

Trump fired back at Krebs as he testified on Capitol Hill, tweeting that Krebs “was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing on the Fraudulent 2020 Election. Massive FRAUD took place with machines, people voting from out of state, illegals, dead people, no signatures—and so much more!”

The hearing, announced by committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDomestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary MORE (R-Wis.) last week, also featured testimony from two Trump campaign attorneys, Pennsylvania state Rep. Francis Ryan (R) and Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated the Clinton administration and who served on Trump’s legal team during the Senate impeachment trial. 

All four raised concerns stemming from widely debunked charges of voter fraud and election interference during the presidential election, including concerns over signatures and deliveries of mail-in ballots and whether voting machines were connected to the internet.

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Their concerns came after the Trump campaign spent more than a month launching legal challenges to the election results, with courts repeatedly rejecting the cases. The Supreme Court last week also rejected an attempt by Texas, joined by more than 100 House Republicans, to invalidate Biden’s wins in key battleground states.

Johnson defended holding Wednesday's hearing, even as the panel's top Democrat Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersFreedomWorks misfires on postal reform Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage Lawmakers raise concerns over federal division of cybersecurity responsibilities MORE (Mich.) blasted the GOP chairman for going through with the event.

“A week ago, when I gave notice of this hearing, there were more outstanding issues and court cases than today,” Johnson said during the hearing. “But even though courts have handed down decisions and the Electoral College has awarded Joe Biden 306 electoral votes, a large percentage of the American public does not believe the November election results are legitimate. This is not a sustainable state of affairs in our democratic republic.”

Other Republicans on the committee backed Johnson, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who grilled Krebs on CISA and other election officials’ previous statement on the security of the election.

"The fraud happened. The election in many ways was stolen and the only way it will be fixed is by in the future reinforcing the laws,” Paul said.

Democrats on the committee vocally pushed back, with Peters accusing Republicans of “undermining the will of the people” by pursuing the court challenges.

“Amplifying these obviously false narratives about fraud or irregularities corrodes public trust, it threatens national security, it weakens our democracy and our standing around the world,” Peters said. “Every time the president or his followers make these false claims, they destabilize our relationships with our allies, and allow authoritarian adversaries to undercut American democratic leadership around the globe.”

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan Biden finds few Capitol Hill allies amid Afghanistan backlash Trains matter to America MORE (D-Del.) pleaded with Congress to move past the election and focus on issues including the COVID-19 crisis. 

“This is not the America that our founding fathers dreamed of, this is shameful. Enough already,” Carper said. 

At one point, Johnson and Peters had a heated back-and-forth after Johnson accused Peters and other Democrats of “peddling” Russian disinformation after they previously pushed back against Johnson’s investigations into the Biden family’s links to Ukraine. 

“You lied repeatedly in the press that I was spreading Russian disinformation that was an outright lie, and I told you to stop doing that,” Johnson told Peters. 

Peters shot back that “this is not about airing your grievances, I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down” before Johnson cut him off by gaveling to move to another senator. 

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Despite the partisan divides around the election process, senators agreed with the need to end threats against election officials, including Krebs, with the threats escalating in recent weeks as states went through the processes of certifying election results and as disinformation around the elections have flourished online. 

Peters noted that specific security arrangements had been made to allow Krebs to appear in person before the committee. Krebs said he was concerned that threats against election workers would cause a “chilling effect” for staffing future elections. 

“It’s an affront to democracy that the citizens of the United States of America who are responsible for executing this sacred democratic institution of elections are being threatened on a daily basis,” Krebs said. “This is not an America that I recognize and it’s got to stop, we need everyone across the leadership ranks to stand up.”