Congress

Sen. Rick Scott asks FBI to brief senators on Russian voter hacking in Florida

The FBI confirmed to Scott that two counties had voter files accessed by Russia ahead of the presidential election in 2016, he said

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks with reporters on Feb. 14, 2019. Scott said the FBI confirmed to him on Wednesday that two counties had voter files accessed by Russia ahead of the presidential election of Donald Trump in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:36 p.m. | Sen. Rick Scott has asked the FBI to provide a briefing to any interested senators on Russian intrusion into Florida voter files.

Scott, who was the governor of Florida, said the FBI confirmed to him on Wednesday that two counties had voter files accessed by Russia ahead of the presidential election in 2016.

In a statement, Scott said the FBI informed him there was no evidence of Russian entities actually changing the voter rolls.

“I want to be clear: the FBI verified that there was no evidence of a breach of Florida’s election records at the time voting occurred in 2018. The FBI could not provide any evidence to support the claims about security during the 2018 election made by then-Senator Nelson, which confirms the conclusion of both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security at the time,” Scott said Thursday. “Due to the classified nature of this information and the ongoing investigation, I am not able to reveal what counties were accessed.”

Fellow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, had urged election officials in his home state to take full advantage of federal resources, including from the Department of Homeland Security, for election security ahead of the 2018 midterms.

In the aftermath of the confirmation by current Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that two Florida counties did have voter files accessed by outside actors, Rubio has said that in part because of his role on the Intelligence Committee, he is legally restricted in how much detail he can provide.

“There’s a reason I started warning about #Florida’s election system over a year ago,” Rubio said Wednesday on Twitter. “Was & am limited in what I can say but hoped someone would read between the lines.”

The Florida senator then linked to a Miami Herald report from May 2018, in which Rubio’s previous warning that election officials in the state were “overconfident” about their security apparatus.

“I don’t think they fully understand the nature of the threat,” Rubio had said, according to the story.

Former Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., whom Scott defeated in a hotly-contested race in 2018, had indicated last summer that there could be issues with Russians meddling with election administration in the state. While many commentators panned him for not providing details, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee were careful not to dismiss Nelson’s warning wholesale.

Members of the Florida House delegation said they were briefed by the FBI on Thursday.

"The Russian intrusions revealed to Florida’s delegation today are deeply concerning, and investigators should not withhold this information from the real victims: voters in those two counties," Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Charlie Crist said in a joint statement."This lack of transparency diminishes confidence in our election systems."

"I was particularly alarmed by the information that out of 67 Florida counties, only the former Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections turned down a system that would allow detection of attempted hacking of voting equipment," fellow Florida Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel said in a separate statement.

More on election security — and perhaps the Florida situation specifically — is likely to be revealed through the Intelligence panel’s still-ongoing investigation into election interference by Russia. But, asked about the latest statement from Scott, a spokeswoman for Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., declined comment.

On Thursday, Scott highlighted some of the steps he took to secure elections during his time in Tallahassee.

“As Governor, I invested millions of dollars in cyber security, hired additional cyber security staff, and secured election security grants for all 67 counties in Florida. I appreciate how complimentary the FBI was to our state’s election security and how well state and local authorities cooperate with the FBI,” Scott said.

The governor-turned-senator said that after the briefing he was encouraging continued vigilance.

Wasserman Schultz and Crist were critical of Scott.

"Now a Senator himself, Rick Scott and most Republican leaders have done far too little to prevent this type of attack from ever happening again. By failing to act, Republicans leave our democracy vulnerable to the same type of attacks Florida witnessed," they said.

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