Trump fires 'one of the heroes' of 2020 for telling the truth

In a healthy political system, officials are fired when they're corrupt; in Trump's system, officials are fired for failing to be corrupt.
CISA Director Krebs speaks at CISA's Election Day Operation Center in Arlington, Virginia
U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs speaks to reporters at CISA's Election Day Operation Center on Super Tuesday in Arlington, Va., on March 3, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

As federal agencies go, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) probably seems obscure, but its work matters. Throughout 2020, CISA sought to prevent foreign interference in our elections, both by preventing attacks and by countering efforts to deceive Americans.

The office has been led by Christopher Krebs, the nation's top cybersecurity official, who's earned bipartisan praise for his work. A new column from the Washington Post's David Ignatius noted, "When the history books about this election are written, Krebs will be one of the heroes."

Last night, Donald Trump fired Krebs -- via Twitter, of course -- because one of the heroes of the election season had the audacity to tell the public the truth.

Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, has been the target of public criticism from Trump since the Nov. 3 election over his agency's Rumor Control blog, which rebuts a list of false claims about election fraud and hacking — many of which Trump or his lawyers have touted as real after he lost the election.

I can appreciate why many see the word "Orwellian" as being overused in the political discourse, but every once in a while, it's applicable in important ways.

In this case, we see a would-be autocrat, desperate to deceive the public about an election defeat, has fired a respected public servant who stood in the way of the leader's lies. In a healthy political system, officials are fired when they're corrupt; in Trump's system, officials are fired for failing to be corrupt.

At the top of CISA's online "Rumor Control" website -- a site dedicated to providing Americans with accurate information about common election-related lies -- there's a sentence that reads, "Mis- and Disinformation can undermine public confidence in the electoral process, as well as in our democracy."

That's true. It's also true that the United States, at least for the next 63 days, is led by a chief executive who wants to undermine public confidence in the electoral process, as well as in our democracy.

By way of an explanation, Trump's tweets said Krebs had to be "terminated" because he failed to tell the truth about "massive improprieties and fraud." The irony was breathtaking: as CNN's Daniel Dale summarized, "The president is lying in his justification for firing an appointee for telling the truth."

It seemed at least possible that Trump might come up with some absurd pretext for ousting Krebs, or perhaps the president would fire him without explaining himself at all. But, no: Trump explicitly said he expected Krebs to go along with White House lies, and when the CISA chief instead told the truth, he had to go.

If recent history is any guide, Republicans will once again express indifference to Trump's latest abuse, unmoved by the latest in a series of deliberate efforts to undermine our democracy. But their passivity won't make this any less offensive.