The FBI and Department of Homeland Security cast serious doubts on Senator Bill Nelson’s accusation that Russians have penetrated some county election systems in Florida. In a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote, “. we have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida.”
The letter does come with a warning that “Russian government actors have previously demonstrated both intent and capability to conduct malicious cyber operations.”
What is clear is this letter from the nation’s top domestic intelligence agencies refute Senator Nelson’s assertion of Russian hacking.
Governor Rick Scott, clearly feeling redeemed by the letter blasted Senator Nelson, “It is irresponsible and reckless that Bill Nelson would attempt to undermine the voters’ confidence in their county elections systems by making confusing statements while campaigning and then walking away with absolutely no explanation. Even worse, he’s done so with no evidence, potentially revealing classified information, and with a constantly shifting explanation for his bizarre remarks. Bill Nelson has either been deeply confused or very dishonest — and an alarming possibility exists that he is both on this issue. Bill Nelson’s confusion has caused chaos and he should be transparent with the state, Florida voters and the hardworking election supervisors about his unfortunate decision to undermine voters’ confidence in our election systems.”
A Nelson spokesman says there was nothing in the letter that contradicts the Senator and placed blame on Governor Scott. “The governor of Florida has a security clearance and could have quickly and directly received information, answers and posed any questions instead of engaging in these confusing and partisan histrionics of the past week,” said Ryan Brown, Nelson’s spokesman.
Governor Scott did speak Tuesday morning with DHS Secretary Nielsen.
The controversy started on August 7 when Senator Nelson, speaking to reporters in Tallahassee alleged Russians “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.” When pressed on the statement, he said details were classified. Nelson’s been trying to walk back the statement ever since, saying it was the same warning he and Senator Marco Rubio stated in a letter to county supervisors of elections on July 2. That letter, however, mentioned no specific threat.
Nelson’s claims have also drawn national attention. The Washington Postreported last week that “not a single speck of evidence backs him up, and we have serious doubts whether the classified information he cited even exists.” Even an NBC News report that Senator Nelson’s office touted on social media said “Nelson was not supposed to speak publicly about the matter, and he erred by suggesting that the information was new.”
The letter comes as a relief to county supervisors of elections who are in the middle of early voting for the August 28 primary. More than one million voters have already cast their ballots. “This does not mean we become complacent, however,” said Paul Lux, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections and President of the statewide elections supervisors association. “We will continue to work closely with our Federal and State partners and seek their assistance as necessary.”
Having Nelson’s claims debunked by the FBI and Homeland Security could cost him politically as he’s in a tough re-election battle with Governor Scott. Nelson has trailed Scott — although within the margin of error — in all of the recent polls.