The special counsel investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to cling to power after losing the 2020 election has subpoenaed Trump White House staffers who may have been involved in the dismissal of the government’s cybersecurity chief whose election the agency deemed “the safest”. in American history,” according to two people knowledgeable about it.
The team led by Special Counsel Jack Smith interviewed witnesses about the events surrounding the firing of Christopher Krebs, who was the Trump administration’s top cybersecurity official during the 2020 election. of Mr. Krebs that the election was safe contradicted Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that it was a “fraud on the American public”.
Mr. Smith’s team is also seeking information on how White House officials, including the Presidential Personnel Office, approached the Justice Department, to which Mr. Trump turned after his defeat. election to try to stay in power, people familiar with the issues said.
Investigators appear focused on Mr. Trump’s state of mind surrounding Mr. Krebs’ firing, as well as establishing a timeline of events leading up to the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on 6 January 2021. The latest subpoenas, issued about two weeks ago, were issued to personnel office officials, according to the two people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Krebs infuriated Mr. Trump when his agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, issued a statement nine days after the 2020 election attesting to the security of the results. The statement added a strong rebuke – in bold print – to the unfounded conspiracy theories Mr Trump and his allies were spreading about the compromised voting machines.
“There is no evidence that any voting system has removed or lost votes, changed votes or been compromised in any way,” the statement from Mr. Krebs’ agency said.
Five days later, Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Krebs had been “fired” after he issued a “highly inaccurate” statement about the 2020 election.
Mr. Krebs later testified before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that prior to his firing he was aware of “skepticism” among Trump allies about his “loyalty to the president.”
It was more than skepticism. Within the Presidential Personnel Office, a small group of Trump loyalists, led by Mr. Trump’s former personal aide, John McEntee, was tasked with finding and firing people perceived to be disloyal to Mr. Trump within of the federal bureaucracy. And they had pointed the finger at Mr. Krebs’ outspokenness among the disloyal ranks.
Staff members in the personnel office had written a document about Mr. Krebs that set out the reasons for being suspicious of him. The memo, first reported by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, detailed a litany of Mr. Krebs’ alleged sins against Mr. Trump, including: “The woman posted a family photo on Facebook with the logo” Biden Harris “watermarked at the bottom.”
Mr. Smith’s team is interviewing witnesses about broader efforts by Mr. Trump’s personnel officials to test the loyalty of federal officials and potential hires, those briefed on the matter said. Mr McEntee has been seen entering the grand jury in recent months.
Months before the 2020 election, Mr McEntee, now the head of a dating app for the Conservatives, and an MP sought to overhaul the government’s hiring process. They developed what some officials called “the loyalty test” – a new questionnaire for government employees that asked questions such as “What part of candidate Trump’s campaign message appealed to you the most and why?”
Mr. Krebs is among those Mr. Smith’s team interviewed, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Krebs declined to comment when contacted.
Mr. Smith’s team also tried to figure out how the personnel office interacted with the Justice Department as Mr. Trump seized on any instruments available within his bureaucracy that could help him overturn the election result of 2020.
In his final weeks in office, Mr. Trump grew increasingly frustrated with department leaders as one after another pushed back against his pressure on them to falsely claim that large-scale voter fraud had happened in swing states, like Georgia, which Mr. Trump lost to Mr. Biden.
By the time the election was held, Heidi Stirrup, a loyalist close to Mr Trump’s political adviser Stephen Miller, had been appointed White House liaison to the Justice Department. Mr Smith’s office asked about his role, said one of the people briefed on the matter.
Ms Stirrup was banned from entering the Justice Department building a month after the 2020 election after she tried to glean sensitive information from department officials about efforts to hunt voter fraud, according to officials aware of the episode.
Shortly after, Attorney General William P. Barr, whom Mr. Trump had long considered an ally, resigned after telling Mr. Trump that his theories on voter fraud were false and that the legal team that he had gathered to challenge the results was a ‘clown’. show.” Jeffrey A. Rosen, who replaced Mr. Barr, also refused to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to use Justice Department machinery to nullify the election.
Jeffrey B. Clark, the acting head of the Civil Division, was the only senior Justice Department official to embrace Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn President Biden’s victory. Mr. Clark had a relatively low profile, but in the frenetic post-election period, Mr. Trump identified him as his most important ally in the department. Mr. Trump seriously considered firing Mr. Rosen and putting Mr. Clark in charge.