What to Know in Washington: Trump Fires Cyber Official Over Vote

President Donald Trump yesterday announced he had fired a Department of Homeland Security official who has publicly contradicted the president’s unfounded claims about widespread election fraud.

Christopher Krebs, a former Microsoft executive, was nominated by Trump to a top cybersecurity job in 2018 and became the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, later that year. His agency declared the Nov. 3 election “the most secure in American history.”

In a tweet last night, Trump said he was finished with Krebs.

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud – including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, “glitches” in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting and many more,” Trump tweeted, adding that he was terminating Krebs “effective immediately.”

Even before the election results were known, Trump had cast doubt on the integrity of the vote, and those claims have escalated since Joe Biden was declared the winner by media organizations after securing enough electoral votes.

Trump’s firing of Krebs, which many had expected, including Krebs himself, came after business hours and capped a day of setbacks and controversy in his supporters’ efforts to challenge the election’s results. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra and Alyza Sebenius.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Krebs at a Senate Judiciary hearing in 2019.

Michigan County Certifies Vote: A Michigan county that includes Detroit reversed its decision not to certify election results amid a national uproar over an earlier vote to withhold approval, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last night. The Board of Canvassers for Wayne County, Michigan’s largest, initially split 2-2 on a vote, with the two Republican members voting against certification. But Benson said on CNN that the board voted again last night, unanimously this time, to certify the results but also asking state officials to conduct an audit of some precincts.

The reversal came even as Trump tweeted praise for the board’s deadlock. David Welch has more.

Fraud Claims Disappear in Pennsylvania Court: Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani described at length to a federal judge in Pennsylvania a vast but vague Democratic conspiracy to steal the election that justified the invalidation of hundreds of thousands of votes — enough to flip the state from Biden to Trump.

But U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann cut straight to the heart of the matter, wondering aloud why it would be reasonable to throw out so many valid ballots — Giuliani at one point said 1.5 million would have to go — based on allegations that some votes were merely counted improperly. “How can this result possibly be justified?” Brann asked during a six-hour hearing in Williamsport on the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

And when Brann pressed Giuliani to explain why none of the specific legal claims in the suit are based on voter fraud, the president’s lawyer admitted the campaign isn’t pleading voter fraud at all. Later, Brann asked whether he should apply a higher legal standard of “strict scrutiny” to the case, which is required when fraud is alleged. “If we had alleged fraud, then yes, but this is not a fraud case,” Giuliani said quickly. Even so, Giuliani, picked by Trump to lead his post-election litigation, argued that the “draconian” remedy requested was warranted by the magnitude of fraud, carried out by Democratic election officials in U.S. swing states’ biggest cities, from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. Read more from Erik Larson and David Voreacos.

Nevada GOP Claim Fraud in Lawsuit: A group of Nevada Republicans asked a state court judge to declare Trump the winner of the election, claiming rampant fraud from mail-in ballots made the results of the Nov. 3 vote illegitimate. Biden won Nevada by 33,596 votes, or 2.4 percentage points, according to an Associated Press tally. Officials in the state’s most populous county certified the results, the Associated Press reported. But the Republicans aren’t accepting them. Read more from Patricia Hurtado.

Movers & Shakeups

Shelton Running Out of Time for Confirmation: Judy Shelton is running out of time to win confirmation to the Federal Reserve Board, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) faces voting obstacles thrown up by the pandemic and the political calendar.

A procedural vote to advance the controversial nominee was blocked yesterday, after two GOP senators were forced into quarantine by Covid-19 exposure. That left the leader short of a majority, thanks to unified Democratic opposition and dissent from two Republicans and the absence of a third who declined to back Shelton. Now it will depend on whether Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is able to leave quarantine this week after exposure over the weekend to someone who tested positive for Covid-19, and whether any other senators are forced to stay away from the Capitol by the virus. “We’re still consulting with his doctor on quarantine,” said Chris Hartline, Scott’s communications director. “But he’s taken a couple tests since Saturday and all negative.”

At stake is Trump’s move to install an ally on the seven-person board before he leaves office, after having appointed three of the current five members and having elevated Jerome Powell to the chair. Shelton was nominated 17 months ago, but she was stalled moving through the Senate over concerns about some of her past out-of-the-mainstream positions on monetary policy and the role of the Fed. Read more from Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis.

Trump Plans to Nominate Bank Watchdog: Trump signaled he intends to nominate the acting Comptroller of the Currency to a new five-year term, potentially complicating any plans the Biden administration has to levy tougher regulations on Wall Street banks. In a statement, the White House said yesterday it plans to submit Brian Brooks’ name for Senate confirmation in a highly unusual move mere weeks before the end of Trump’s presidency. It could force Joe Biden to rely on never used legal authority to remove Brooks if he wants to replace him with a tougher regulator. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

Clayton Set Course for Democrats on Crypto, Covid-19: Democrats at the SEC soon will inherit Chairman Jay Clayton’s playbook for handling the coronavirus, cryptocurrency, and whistleblowers—containing strategies they largely supported. Clayton, who plans to leave at year’s end, laid the groundwork for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s aggressive enforcement of securities laws to root out potential Covid-19 and cryptocurrency fraud. The Republican-leaning independent also ushered in new rules that clarify the commission’s discretion to set whistleblower awards, while seeing the bounties hit a record $175 million in fiscal 2020.

The SEC under Biden will have the opportunity to change course, but Democrats generally have supported his leadership in those areas that will remain relevant in the coming years. Read more from Andrew Ramonas.

Net Neutrality Tops To-Do List For FCC Democrats: The Federal Communications Commission is expected to move to restore net neutrality rules after Biden takes office, undoing the agency’s deregulation of the broadband industry during the Trump administration. The key regulatory underpinning would be a reclassification of broadband as a service under Title II of the Communications Act. That reclassification would enable the agency to reinstate rules requiring that companies like AT&T and Comcast treat all internet traffic equally, and take other actions to regulate broadband providers’ business practices amid the pandemic.

How fast Democrats can move to restore broadband as a Title II service and enact new net neutrality rules will depend on how quickly Democrats can install a majority at the FCC. Read more from Jon Reid.

Happening on the Hill

Democrats Ask McConnell to Start Relief Talks: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote to McConnell asking him to “come to the table” this week and work with them to produce an agreement for stimulus aid. Economists and experts agree the country “requires a much larger injection” of a fiscal stimulus than the $500 billion McConnell supports, Pelosi and Schumer said, Erik Wasson reports.

  • A whole range of pandemic aid programs are set to expire in the new year, leaving millions of Americans without the government support that’s helped keep them afloat — and threatening to hold back a rebounding economy. The biggest blow will likely come from the end of two federal unemployment-insurance programs, with roughly 12 million people facing a late-December cutoff, according to a study released today by The Century Foundation. Also, measures that froze student-loan payments, offered mortgage forbearance and halted evictions have a year-end deadline –- and so do Federal Reserve lending facilities for small businesses and local governments. Read more from Reade Pickert and Olivia Rockeman.

Broader Screening Role for CLEAR Revived: A bill that would expand the private airport security company CLEAR’s authority to screen passengers has been revived in revised form, after the first version was pulled due to objections from the Transportation Security Administration. This time, the Registered Traveler Act is going forward without TSA’s input after the agency was removed by superiors at the Department of Homeland Security from discussions with Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee staff. Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy DHS secretary, rebuked TSA Administrator David Pekoske for calling an earlier version of the bill “a bridge too far” in a May letter that prompted the committee to scrap a scheduled markup. The bill will be marked up today. Read more from Shaun Courtney.

Hoyer Pushes for Whistleblower Protections: HouseMajority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is pushing for additional protections for whistleblowers to prevent lawmakers from revealing their identities, Emily Wilkins reports. Hoyer asked Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to ensure the rules package for the next Congress contained consequences for members who out a whistleblower. Hoyer said he and others were “appalled and disgusted” when House and Senate lawmakers threatened to identify federal employees who reported their concerns about a July 2019 phone call Trump had with the Ukrainian president. The report contributed to Trump’s impeachment.

“Members of Congress who would willfully undermine their own institution’s ability to conduct oversight by revealing or threatening to reveal the identities of whistleblowers must face consequences,” Hoyer said in the letter.

The rules package is not expected to be finalized until closer to the start of the 117th Congress in early January.

Grassley Says He Tested Positive for Coronavirus: Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), an 87-year-old in the line of succession to the presidency, announced yesterday he tested positive for the coronavirus. Grassley reported the test results late in the day, after beginning a quarantine in the morning following notification he was exposed to the virus. On Monday, Grassley gave a speech on the Senate floor, without wearing a mask.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Grassley also attended a meeting in McConnell’s office on Monday evening. ”He’s been great about wearing his mask and I think great about taking care of himself,” Blunt added. Asked if others at the meeting were taking steps to self-quarantine, Blunt said, “You’d have to ask them. I was, like, 12 feet away from him but I mean, that’s why we’re in that big room.” Read more from Mike Dorning and Laura Litvan.

What Else to Know Today

Final Hurdle for Covid-19 Vaccine Is Bureaucracy: Making vaccines that are safe and effective is certainly the hard part of the race to pull humanity from the pandemic brink. Promising results are trickling in, starting with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s early findings that their vaccine prevented more than 90% of symptomatic infections in a trial of tens of thousands of volunteers. On Nov. 16, Moderna reported a 94.5% prevention rate for its vaccine, with a 30,000-plus test group. Yet if triumph in this scientific, corporate, and nationalistic contest is defined as the first vaccine to get approved and administered on a large scale, the victory is still anyone’s to win. The final phase will require navigating the maze of regulators, scattered across continents and agencies, who will determine when, which, and where shots of the most promising candidates will be approved, produced, and distributed. Read more from Vernon Silver, Suzi Ring and James Paton.

  • Biden has a “considerable if not profound” grasp of and appreciation for science, top disease expert Anthony Fauci said at the STATE Summit yesterday. The remarks by Fauci offer a first glimpse at how pandemic research and response may fare under the incoming administration. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has advised every White House since the Reagan administration on outbreaks ranging from HIV to the influenza pandemic to Ebola. Biden would frequently attend White House meetings on the Ebola response, during which “the vice president would come in and sit down and listen and contribute to the discussions about how we were handling Ebola,” Fauci said about the outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

New Leadership at For-Profit College Lobby: Career Education Colleges and Universities, for-profit colleges’ Washington lobby group, announced former Democratic Congressman Jason Altmire will become the group’s new president and CEO, replacing Steve Gunderson, a former Republican House member, Andrew Kreighbaum reports. Altmire was a member of the House Education and Labor Committee during his three congressional terms. Since leaving Congress in 2013, he’s worked as a lobbyist for the health care industry. Altmire said in a statement he would work make sure for-profit colleges are “measured by the same accountability metrics as all others in higher education.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled back Obama era regulations targeting for-profit colleges, but the industry will likely be on the defensive under the incoming Biden administration. Biden promised to make for-profits demonstrate their value to keep access to federal student aid. And he said he would back restrictions on revenue for-profits can earn from student veterans.

U.S. Calls for Georgia Opposition to Drop Boycott Threats: Senior U.S. officials called for Georgia’s opposition to work within the legal system to address their concerns over last month’s parliamentary elections, as Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited in a show of support for the country’s efforts to orient itself toward the West and away from Russia. The officials, who spoke to reporters today on customary condition of anonymity, said the election results were generally accurate and not fatally flawed, though they said there were some concerns like vote-buying and intimidation. They said they’ll urge the opposition not to boycott parliament but to push for electoral reform within the law. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Helena Bedwell.

U.S. Dropping Charges Against Mexico’s Ex-Defense Chief: U.S. Attorney General William Barr said he’ll seek the dismissal of drug-trafficking charges against Mexico’s former defense minister so that the nation’s prosecutors can investigate him in his home country. U.S. prosecutors will share evidence with Mexico to support their investigation against the former minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, according to a joint statement from both countries. Read more from Michael O’Boyle and John Harney.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com