Nelson Won’t Back Down on Russian Hacking Claims in Florida

Russian hacking of U.S. elections is becoming a big issue in the U.S. Senate race in Florida between incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott.

One week ago we reported Nelson’s claims that

“Russian operatives have penetrated Florida’s election systems ahead of the 2018 elections. They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”

When Nelson was asked to provide more details, including the source of his information, he responded by saying “That’s classified.”

Since then, he has come under attack from Rick Scott and other Republicans in Florida for making the claims of Russian hacking without providing evidence. Many political commentators and observers expressed opinions that Nelson’s comments would hurt him in his tight Senate race with Scott.

But now it has become clear that no matter how much Scott and his surrogates attack him Nelson will not back down. He still maintains that Russian operatives have penetrated some of Florida’s election systems and could impact this year’s crucial election.

“U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, under fire from Florida’s Republican governor, isn’t backing down from comments that Russian operatives have penetrated some of his state’s election systems ahead of this year’s crucial election.”

During recent campaign stops in northern Florida the three-term Democratic senator expressed his opinions very clearly. He asserted that Florida’s state and local officials must do a better job and they need to look upon Russian meddling as a “serious threat.” He also said that county election supervisors must assess the vulnerabilities of their election systems and ask for help if they need it. According to reports from U.S. intelligence agencies Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states, including Florida, during the last election and may have impacted the results in favor of Republicans.

“It would be foolish to think that the Russians are not continuing to do what they did in Florida in 2016,” Nelson said during his campaign stops. “It is unfortunate that some Florida officials are trying to use this for partisan purposes.”

He is right that Scott is trying to use Nelson’s warnings against him. Instead of responding by taking the threat seriously the governor is mocking Nelson and downplaying the risk. Scott is a big supporter of Donald Trump who is well known for denying that Russian hacking really happened, even though he received evidence that it did from all U.S. intelligence agencies.

Scott has called on U.S. officials to rebut Nelson’s claims, and last week the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying the agency “had not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure.”

In addition, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, head of the Senate intelligence committee, and Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who sits on the committee, have declined to either confirm or deny Nelson’s statements.

Nelson has not released classified information but clearly he has been told there is a problem that needs to be taken care of by the Republicans in charge of Florida’s election systems. When he was asked about Russian meddling he said that both he and Rubio were asked by the Senate intelligence committee to write officials in Florida in early July and warn them.

Nelson also has strongly maintained that foreign nations are easily able to infiltrate American election systems, and he believes that the threat of American retaliation is the only way to stop more aggressive election interference by hostile nations.

“You take a sophisticated nation state like Russia or China, they can get into anything,” Nelson said.

All the details of the 2016 Russian election hacking have not been made public, but last month an indictment was released saying that Russian intelligence agents had sent more than 100 fake emails to elections offices and personnel in Florida. State officials have never acknowledged how many counties were targeted by the Russians and Nelson believes they need to release more information.

Like Donald Trump, Rick Scott is denying the threat of Russian hacking of U.S. elections in 2018. Bill Nelson is correct to talk about the issue and try to get Florida officials to do the jobs they are paid to do, which is protect the integrity of election systems.