A day later, diGenova tried to walk back his remarks by portraying them as a joke. “For anyone listening to the Howie Carr Show, it was obvious that my remarks were sarcastic and made in jest. I, of course, wish Mr. Krebs no harm. This was hyperbole in a political discourse,” diGenova said Tuesday in a statement distributed by the Trump campaign.
A source familiar with Trump’s election challenges said diGenova is believed to still be helping Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, in challenging the presidential election results.
Asked about diGenova’s comment, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah told CNN, “That statement was wildly inappropriate.”
Carr did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The remarks from diGenova, though much more extreme than others made by officials in the White House during Trump’s time in office, underscore the administration’s crusade against whistleblowers and others who have spoken out in opposition during the President’s term and refuse to adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.
Krebs suggested Tuesday in an interview with the “Today” show that he may take legal action against diGenova following the comments, which he called “dangerous.”
“The way I look at it is that we are a nation of laws and I plan to take advantage of those laws. I’ve got an exceptional team of lawyers that win in court and I think they’re probably going to be busy,” he said.
DiGenova’s remarks were swiftly condemned on Monday by the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower group that warned that such threats could have a chilling effect on officials seeking to expose wrongdoing.
“Threats like these trigger an avalanche of them. They terrorize other whistleblowers into silence. It’s behavior befitting a mob attorney,” Louis Clark, the group’s executive director and chief executive officer, said in a blistering statement on Monday.
DiGenova’s comments also prompted a strong rebuke from Krebs’ former deputy, Matt Travis, who called diGenova, “a small man with a small mind and bad mustache.”
“It’s egregious, loss of words for just how absurd and offensive those comments are,” Travis said Tuesday during the Aspen Cyber Summit. “We certainly never expected CISA, its mission, its people, to be under attack like this and I hope it ends soon. I hope Mr. diGenova takes back those words, apologies and recognizes that maybe the hot lights of the studio got to him.”
Travis, who served as the No. 2 official at the agency, resigned last month in the wake of Krebs’ firing.
The statement from Krebs’ agency, along with state and private election officials, had read: “The November 3rd election was 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.”
In the lead-up to the election, Krebs had often quietly disputed the President’s repeated false claims about mail-in ballots but went out of his way to not get drawn into criticizing his boss for spreading lies.
But in the days that followed, Krebs had adopted a more forceful approach, regularly posting on Twitter — often with blaring red siren emojis — fact checks of the claims and conspiracy theories being pushed by Trump, his allies and supporters around the country.
Prior to the election, CISA “took the stance that it was not our role to fact check the candidates. We were going to stay out of that political process,” Travis said. “But once the election had been conducted … then we felt it was our role to be articulating the ground truth on what these processes entailed.”
“We generally had try to fly under the radar, knowing how fraught with peril this election might be because of the non-traditional way the votes would eventually be tabulated and the timing of that … we tried to kind of filter out that noise,” Travis said when asked about Trump’s continued politicization of the election leading up to Election Day.
Despite states certifying their results and awarding electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden ahead of the Electoral College meeting on December 14, Trump has not conceded the election. Instead, he has continued to falsely claim that he won.
This story has been updated with additional comment..
CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Geneva Sands and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.