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Exit strategy

Cybersecurity czar fired by Trump reportedly set up a Trump-proof line of succession

President Trump fired Christopher Krebs, the well-regarded director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), via tweet on Tuesday, citing Krebs' public assurances that the 2020 election was historically secure and free of fraud or serious error.

Krebs was the rare Trump administration official almost universally regarded as competent, apolitical, and effective in a crucial area that needed such leadership. And he apparently found a way to make sure his agency continued without too much political inference in the event he was fired. "Late Tuesday," The Washington Post said, "acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf called Krebs' deputy, Matthew Travis, to inform him that the White House had overruled CISA's succession plan that named him acting director, essentially forcing him to resign, Travis said." A DHS spokesman said the White House did not directly ask Travis to step down.

With Travis out, CISA leadership goes to Brandon Wales, "a career employee whom Trump cannot fire," Politico says. "Mr. Krebs specifically created Mr. Wales' position as executive director to make it more difficult for the White House to install partisan replacements atop the agency," The Wall Street Journal reports, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Krebs worked in the George W. Bush DHS then served as a lobbyist for Microsoft. In 2018 he was promoted to DHS undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, which became CISA with legislation signed in November 2018. Krebs became the de facto "cyber czar" when the White House eliminated the cybersecurity coordinator position at the National Security Council. During his tenure, he worked not just on shoring up America's creaky election security but also on cybersecurity and ransomware threats at hospitals, utilities, and other critical infrastructure.

Krebs won widespread praise for increasing trust and cooperation with disparate federal agencies, hackers, and state and local election officials. He survived several shakeups at Trump's DHS, but his "Rumor Control" initiative to swat down election misinformation was evidently a bridge too far for Trump, whose misinformation Krebs repeatedly, if indirectly, debunked. "Honored to serve," Krebs tweeted after his firing. "We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow."