(CN) — President Trump’s losing election campaign and the lawyer who said his top election-security official Chris Krebs should be shot were hit Tuesday with defamation claims.
Krebs says he has faced “a barrage of threats and harassment” after Trump lawyer Joseph diGenova called for his execution last week on a conservative TV talk show.
“On defendant Newsmax’s ‘The Howie Carr Show,’ defendant diGenova, speaking on behalf of the defendant campaign to promote its fanciful claims of election fraud and stop what he claimed was a ‘coup,’ declared that plaintiff should receive the penalty historically reserved for treason: ‘He should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot,’” the complaint states.
Represented by attorneys at Rifkin Weiner and Walden Macht, Krebs filed suit in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland, pairing his claims with more than 20 pages of threatening messages from Trump supporters.
Trump himself appointed Krebs in 2018 as the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a position confirmed by the Senate. The complaint says his job entailed securing the American electoral system, “which had been targeted by Russian cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election” according to the complaint.
Last month, however, as Trump brought an onslaught of litigation to challenge his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, the CISA joined a group of federal, state and local officials in a Nov. 12 statement calling the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.”
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the statement continued.
Krebs posted the announcement on Twitter, commenting, “TLDR: America, we have confidence in the security of your vote, you should, too. #Protect2020.”
Trump tweeted back five days later, saying the statement was “highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud,” and announced that “effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated.”
After his termination, Krebs defended his position that the election was secure in a “60 Minutes” interview, explaining that his intelligence work for the government helped to ensure a sound election.
“I have confidence in the security of this election because I know the work that we’ve done for four years in support of our state and local partners,” Krebs said. “I know that these systems are more secure.”
It was on Nov. 30, a day after the “60 Minutes” interview ran, that Trump’s lawyer diGenova labeled him both a traitor and a “class A moron.”
The complaint charges diGenova, Trump’s campaign and Newsmax with defamation, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Newsmax meanwhile insists it cannot be held liable for comments by a guest that it concedes were “inappropriate.”
In the intervening weeks, DiGenova has made two more appearances on Newsmax where he apologized for the remarks he described as having been made “facetiously.”
“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 company said in a statement.
Representatives for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Krebs, whom the complaint calls an “American patriot” and lifelong Republican, said he has received death threats and other harassment directly resulting from diGenova’s “shockingly irresponsible and dangerous” remarks.
The “avalanche” of comments included one person asking “Can I pull the trigger???” and another posting, “Why waste a bullet, just smash his head in with rock.”
Krebs says the damage has extended to his wife and their five young children. “Daddy’s going to get executed?” his 10-year-old asked, according to the complaint.
The complaint notes some other recent targets of Trump’s political attacks who have been threatened or plotted against by the president’s supporters. In October, six men were arrested over a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; they were members of a militia group, and at least one of the suspects had Trump election signs in their front yard.
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of Krebs.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, wrote on Twitter: “Director Krebs worked diligently to safeguard our elections from interference and misinformation. He protected our democracy. And spoke truth to power. That’s why Trump retaliated and fired him.”
The complaint also quotes Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, as saying, “Chris Krebs did a really good job — as state election officials all across the nation will tell you — and he obviously should not be fired.”
On Dec. 1, Attorney General William Barr rejected voter fraud claims.
Asked during his “60 Minutes” interview if he had reservations that rebuking Trump could costing him his job, Krebs said he was acting under oath and has no regrets.
“I would do it over again a thousand times,” Krebs said. “We did the right thing.”
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