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Trump's bullying campaign is working. This lawsuit is trying to fight back.

Chris Krebs contends that Trump’s threats are central to the campaign to deter Republicans from breaking with the president.
Image: Chris Krebs listening at a Senate Judicial Committee hearing
Chris Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, is taking a stand for Republicans who speak truth to Trump.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

As President Donald Trump continues his vain attempt to overturn his election defeat, Republicans who refuse to go along are being hit with a coordinated campaign of intimidation, retaliation and threats. That's what fired Trump appointee Chris Krebs alleged in his recent lawsuit.

The relationship of Trump’s campaign, Newsmax, and diGenova, Krebs writes, is “symbiotic.”

In the suit filed against the Trump campaign, Krebs argues that the attacks are part of an intentional plan to bully any Republicans who question Trump's claims that the election was rigged or who resist his campaign to nullify the election.

In the end, Krebs may not win. But his lawsuit is a graphic warning about the danger of political violence and how it's already deforming Republican politics.

As Trump keeps pushing efforts to overturn the election, he and his allies have only escalated their rhetoric. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, "We will soon be learning about the word 'courage', and saving our Country."

It's not clear whether the tweet is meant to incite violence — but if the goal is intimidation, it may be succeeding. Only a handful of Republican officials have pushed back against Trump's baseless charges. The Republican attorneys general of 17 states are backing Texas' long-shot bid to have the Supreme Court nullify the election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Another 106 Republican members of the House of Representatives signed onto an amicus brief backing Texas' attempt to overturn the election.

If other members of the GOP are appalled by the president's attempt at mass disenfranchisement, most of them aren't saying so. Krebs thinks he knows why.

Until recently, Krebs was the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, putting him in charge of ensuring the security of the election and countering cyberattacks and disinformation.

After the vote, he and other officials vouched for the safety and integrity of the process, issuing a statement declaring that the vote "was the most secure in American history" and that, contrary to the false rumors then circulating, there was "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

Upset that Krebs challenged his narrative of fraud, Trump fired him via tweet, making him an immediate target of TrumpWorld. During an appearance on Newsmax, Trump ally Joseph diGenova singled out Krebs and called for him to be "drawn and quartered" and "taken out at dawn and shot."

In his case against the Trump campaign, Newsmax and diGenova, Krebs alleges defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting, and civil conspiracy.

As a result of diGenova's threat, Krebs argues in the suit, "an angry mob immediately bombarded" him "with a barrage of death threats and harassment, which continue to this day."

But, Krebs notes, his isn't an isolated case. He alleges that Trump and his media allies have launched a concerted campaign "to discredit and defame dissenting Republicans by labeling them as 'traitors,' 'cowards,' 'liars,' or similar terms to retaliate against them directly, and to chill others from speaking out."

Krebs contends that the threats are central to the campaign to deter Republicans from breaking with Trump, even as he "stoked fear, hawked conspiracy theories, and essentially claimed a vast criminal conspiracy."

If other members of the GOP are appalled by the president’s attempt at mass disenfranchisement, most of them aren’t saying so.

That dynamic has played out around the country. In Pennsylvania, Trump and his allies have attacked Republicans as "cowards" and "traitors." In Arizona, Trump alleged that Gov. Doug Ducey had "betrayed the people of Arizona" because he followed the law and certified the state's election results. In Georgia, Trump attacked the governor and labeled Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an "enemy of the people" because he hadn't "bowed to Trump's demands that the Georgia election results be thrown out so that he could be declared the winner in the state."

But the most dramatic aspect of Krebs' lawsuit is his allegation that Trump is actively and intentionally fomenting violence.

"Throughout his term as president," Krebs alleges, "Trump has often refused to condemn violence by his supporters or has equivocated on the subject. This, among other of Trump's conduct, has led many of his supporters to believe that they have his tacit support to commit acts of violence."

During the run-up to the election, the lawsuit says, "this toxicity reached its zenith." Krebs cites the arrests of 13 members of a paramilitary group who are accused of having plotted to kidnap and murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a frequent target of Trump's ire. Since the election, he writes, "threats upon election officials have risen to unprecedented levels."

Across the country, The New York Times reported, "election officials and their staff have been bombarded ... with emails, telephone calls and letters brimming with menace and threats of violence, the result of their service in a presidential election in which the defeated candidate's most ardent followers have refused to accept the results."

It may be working. In Pennsylvania, the majority leader of the state Senate described the pressure to sign a letter rejecting the state's election results. "If I would say to you, 'I don't want to do it,'" said Sen. Kim Ward, "I'd get my house bombed tonight."

Which brings us back to the Newsmax interview in which diGenova singled out Krebs and called for his execution. Krebs' lawsuit describes the evolving ecosystem of the right-wing media. The relationship among Trump's campaign, Newsmax and diGenova, Krebs writes, is "symbiotic."

Newsmax "disseminates and amplifies" Trump's claims of election fraud and the threats of allies like diGenova, the suit continues, "which pleases viewers, prompts endorsements from Trump, increases ratings, supports the political goals of the defendant campaign, and helps raise more money from duped supporters."

But it's also dangerous. Krebs' suit contends that Trump and his allies "hoped to promote and encourage unlawful threats toward, and actual violence upon," Republicans like him "for speaking truth and performing his constitutional duties without regard to 'party loyalty.'"

In great detail, Krebs' lawsuit lays out the reaction of social media users on the right-wing site Parler after he was labeled a "traitor." Some examples, from comments posted on or around Dec. 1, included a user who said he had "put himself in the line of fire! We know now that he did lie when he said there had been no cyber interference with the election. Under this evidence alone he should be tried for treason and shot as a trader."

"Why waste a bullet, just smash his head in with rock," another user said. "If we make an example of one of these traitors then we might get rid of all the rats that are still hiding in the darkness," a third intoned. Around two dozen such messages were included in the filing.

All of this took a predictable toll. The lawsuit said the "unrelenting fear" that Krebs experienced after learning of diGenova's threats "has been staggering." His fears were shared by his family, "including his 10-year-old, who piercingly asked: 'Daddy's going to get executed?'"

Krebs notes — and I agree — that it's a question no parent should ever hear or have to answer. But it's a haunting warning of what happens to a political party when blind loyalty replaces principle and when conformity is enforced by intimidation and even threats of violence.