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Christopher Krebs defends election integrity at contentious Senate hearing

Former cybersecurity chief on 2020 election
Former cybersecurity chief says 2020 was most secure election in U.S. history 06:34

Christopher Krebs, the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), once again lauded the security of this year's election during a contentious Senate hearing on Wednesday. Krebs, who was fired by President Trump after he called the 2020 vote "the most secure in American history," defended his assessment in front of lawmakers. 

"While elections are sometimes messy, this was a secure election. Of that I have no doubt," Krebs said in his opening statement. 

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held the hearing to examine "irregularities" in the 2020 election. The premise of the hearing — coming six weeks out from the election and days after all 538 state electors voted in the Electoral College, formalizing President-elect Joe Biden's victory — was questioned by Democrats, as well as Krebs. 

"From a timing perspective, particularly with the setting of the Electoral College and 306 electoral votes for President-elect Biden, you know, I think we're past the point where we need to be having conversations about the outcome of this election," Krebs said Wednesday. He added that "continued assaults on democracy and the outcome of this election ... undermine confidence in the process," and are "ultimately corrosive to the institutions that support elections."

Krebs warned that such baseless claims will only hinder future elections. 

"The trick about elections is that you're not so much trying to convince the winner that they won, it's the loser that they lost," he said. "You need willing participants on both sides. I think we've got to get back to that point, otherwise we're going to have a very difficult time going forward maintaining confidence in this American experiment."

Senate hearing to examine alleged irregularities in the 2020 election, in Washington
Chris Krebs listens during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in Washington on December 16, 2020.  Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via Reuters

President Trump has yet to concede the election and, despite dozens of failed lawsuits challenging the outcome, he is not alone in continuing to question the results. Last week, more than 100 Republican members of the House endorsed one of the lawsuits rejected by the Supreme Court that sought to overturn the election results in four states.

Key Republican leaders, however, have begun to publicly accept the outcome. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Mr. Biden as the president-elect for the first time on Tuesday, more than a month after Mr. Biden won the presidential election, and Majority Whip John Thune, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, told reporters on Monday that it was time to "move on."

The Republican chairman of the committee that held Wednesday's hearing, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he acknowledged Mr. Biden's victory but still wanted to answer "legitimate questions" about the election. "All I'm trying to do is hold a very upfront, straightforward hearing talking about what controls there are in place, what fraud does occur, what can we do to prevent fraud in the future," Johnson told the newspaper.  

The top Democrat on the committee, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, acknowledged Wednesday that "mistakes do happen in elections," but said that "there is a difference between a clerk making an error — and gets caught and corrected during routine audits — and calling the entire election fraudulent or stolen, when there is no evidence, just because you do not like the outcome."

Throughout his testimony, Krebs pointed to the importance of paper trails and post-election audits in assuring the election's security, saying more could always be done to invest in those protections. "Those are the sorts of things that give you confidence in the process, when you can go and recount the ballots over and over and over," he said. 

Mr. Biden's victory in Georgia was reaffirmed by a hand recount that was part of an audit required by a new state law.

In addition to undermining trust in elections, Krebs stressed the toll that baseless fraud claims have on the people who run elections. He himself received a wave of death threats after a lawyer for the president, Joseph diGenova, said Krebs should be "drawn and quartered" and "taken out at dawn and shot" for his defense of the November election.

"It's got to stop," Krebs said of threats aimed at election officials across the country. A lifelong Republican, he specifically called on his party to step up and acknowledge results. "I would appreciate more support from my own party, the Republican Party, to call this stuff out and end it," he said. "We've got to move on. We have a president-elect in President-elect Biden, and we have to move on."

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