WASHINGTON – The U.S. cybersecurity official who was fired last month by President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday over threatening remarks by a lawyer for the president that prompted a wave of death threats against him.
Christopher Krebs says in the suit that he has been “bombarded” with threats since attorney Joseph diGenova appeared on the pro-Trump TV network Newsmax and called for Krebs to be killed.
“The defendants’ threats have upended plaintiff’s life, as well as his family’s security, and caused serious fear, distress, suffering, and even physical damage,” he said in the lawsuit, filed in diGenova's home state of Maryland.
Amid the threats, Krebs, a Republican and Trump appointee, was forced to move out of his home in Virginia for several days and hire private security. He still keeps his children from playing in their front yard out of fear, attorney Jim Walden said.
“It has fundamentally uprooted their lives,” Walden said. “He and his family feel terribly threatened.”
Krebs was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency until he was fired in a Nov. 17 tweet by Trump after he and other officials who oversaw the election determined it was free of major fraud or interference, contradicting the president's unsubstantiated assertions to the contrary.
DiGenova said in a Nov. 30 appearance on Newsmax that Krebs should be “drawn and quartered” and “taken out at dawn and shot” for his defense of the November election won by Joe Biden and his participation in what he portrayed as a “coup” against the president.
He later said he had been joking in the interview but the lawsuit calls the remarks “shockingly irresponsible and dangerous,” in the tense political climate. Walden said it's part of a broader effort by the president's allies to intimidate public officials, especially Republicans, to prevent them from refuting baseless allegations about the vote.
“No one should be targeted and defamed as a ‘traitor’ for faithfully performing the duties of public service,” he said. "That is what happened to Chris and to Republicans all across the country, who truthfully, and based on their substantial experience, are upholding the integrity of the election in the face of a false narrative regarding its results.”
Krebs is seeking financial damages from diGenova, Newsmax and the Trump campaign.
Newsmax said in response to questions about the suit that it has no official ties to diGenova, who was appearing on a syndicated radio program whose content is licensed by the network. It noted that his remarks about Krebs were “inappropriate” but that he did not intend for them to be taken seriously and he has apologized.
“Newsmax believes that claims made by Mr. Krebs in his suit of a ‘conspiracy’ and defamation against him are a threat to free speech and his legal action endangers all media organizations that seek an open discourse of ideas and news,” the network said.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A former Microsoft executive, Krebs ran the agency, known as CISA, from its creation in the wake of Russian interference with the 2016 election through the November election. He won bipartisan praise as CISA coordinated federal state and local efforts to defend electoral systems from foreign or domestic interference.
CISA issued a statement in November with a coalition of government and industry election officials from around the country that defended the 2020 election as the “most secure in American history.” It was widely viewed as a direct repudiation of Trump’s efforts to undermine the integrity of the contest.