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Trump administration counters Russian hacking claim by Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat

August 21, 2018

Federal authorities have found no evidence of Russian hackers recently breaching election systems in Florida, the heads of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in a letter released Tuesday, contradicting recent claims raised by Sen. Bill Nelson.

“Although we have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida, Russian government actors have previously demonstrated both the intent and capability to conduct malicious cyber operations,” FBI Director Christopher Wray and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in a letter sent Monday to Florida’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, The Wall Street Journal first reported.

“DHS and FBI will continue to notify any victim of a successful cyber intrusion into their election network in any jurisdiction nationwide,” they wrote in the letter. “We are focused on assisting election officials with securing their systems for the 2018 midterms and ensuring Floridians can have confidence that when they visit the poll, their vote will be counted, and counted correctly.”

Nearly two months until the November midterm elections, the officials’ letter counters Mr. Nelson’s recent claim that Russian hackers have infiltrated voter registration systems across Florida, casting doubt on the Democrat’s allegation and potentially complicating his re-election campaign amid facing competition from Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican vying against the three-term incumbent.

The Democrat senator claimed during an Aug. 7 campaign event that Capitol Hill colleagues asked him to “let supervisors of elections in Florida know that Russians are inside our records,” adding that Russian hackers “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”

Mr. Scott subsequently accused Mr. Nelson of “making things up,” and the governor’s secretary of state, Mr. Detzner, contacted federal officials seeking clarity, his spokesman said this month.

“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Sen. Nelson or his staff that support his claims,” Florida Department of State spokesperson Sarah Revell told CNN. “If Sen. Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida.”

Responding to the Trump administration’s letter Tuesday, Mr. Scott’s campaign said in a statement that Mr. 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,” the government’s campaign said in a statement released to south Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper.

“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,” responded Ryan Brown, a spokesman for Mr. Nelson, the newspaper reported.

Russian state-sponsored hackers attempted to breach election systems in multiple states during the 2016 election, according to U.S. federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The same Russian agency responsible for successfully hacking Democratic victims during the 2016 race were recently caught attempting to mount a subsequent campaign that involved creating websites mimicking the U.S. Senate and conservative think tanks, Microsoft warned Tuesday.

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