President Trump is settling scores and taking steps to cement his agenda in his final 60-plus days in the White House, even as he refuses to concede an electoral loss to Democrat Joe Biden and his legal team flails at the results in nearly a half-dozen states.
Trump fired the administration’s top cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs on Tuesday evening, the latest example of Trump settling a score. He expressed displeasure that Krebs issued a statement that the 2020 election had been the most secure in history, a message that undercut Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about voting machine vulnerabilities and a “rigged” election.
The removal of Krebs followed the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and raises the prospect that Trump will remove more officials, such as CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray, while at the same time signaling that anything regarded as disloyalty to Trump will result in punishment.
President-elect Biden has warned that Trump’s refusal to share information on national security and the coronavirus as part of a peaceful transition is threatening lives, while others have warned it cuts at the nation’s democratic norms.
“Loyalty is what matters most to the president. He’s always made that clear,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser. “Trump expects those around him to take an oath of loyalty and to live up to it. If they don’t, there’s consequences.”
“This isn’t the mafia, but staffers who Trump considers part of his presidential family shouldn’t expect to stay in their jobs long if he thinks they’ve been disloyal,” he continued. “Most of these people know this and were already looking for new jobs before they spoke up.”
Republicans have largely defended Trump’s right to pursue legal challenges around the election and downplayed the potential consequences of his rhetoric casting doubt on the result. But a few cracks have emerged in the GOP as the firings continue.
Trump also seems more focused on taking new actions as president that would meet earlier campaign promises, even if doing so could put him in conflict with powerful Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced drawdowns of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite opposition from the Senate GOP leader and other members of the Republican Party. Trump campaigned in 2016 and 2020 on bringing U.S. forces home from prolonged overseas conflicts like the 19-year-old war in Afghanistan.
“Four years ago, President Trump ran on a promise to put a stop to America’s endless wars,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters following the Pentagon’s announcement. “President Trump is keeping that promise to the American people.”
Trump signed an executive order last week prohibiting Americans from investing in firms the U.S. government says are linked to the Chinese military, in keeping with his efforts to apply pressure to Beijing. The administration is also preparing to move forward with a “most favored nation” proposal that would lower the cost of certain Medicare drugs, and the president is expected to issue executive action further curtailing the use of H-1B work visas.
There had long been talk that Trump could look to dismiss Esper, Wray or Haspel before the end of his first term. Esper’s ouster was followed by a broader leadership shake-up in which Trump loyalists were installed in top posts at the Pentagon.
Krebs expected to be fired by the White House as soon as last week, after a webpage he used to debunk conspiracies around the election and voter fraud attracted considerable attention. In firing Krebs, Trump voiced disagreement with a statement issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the agency led by Krebs, that declared the 2020 election the “most secure in American history.”
Some Republican lawmakers and former officials spoke out against Trump in the wake of Krebs’s firing, while others stopped short of criticizing Trump while praising Krebs’s work.