A question has been lingering in Florida since Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed that Russian hackers gained access to a Florida county.
Does this vindicate former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson? He apparently thinks so.
In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, the former Democratic senator said Mueller’s report explains why last summer he sounded the alarm and claimed that Russians “are in” voting records in Florida.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman asked Sen. Rubio and me in June 2018 to send a letter to the 67 county Supervisors of Election to warn them of Russian intrusion in Florida," Nelson’s statement said. "The Mueller Report makes clear why we had to take that important step as well as my verbal warnings thereafter.”
There are still a lot of questions left unanswered by that statement. Nelson claimed that Russia accessed voting records and alarmingly said hackers “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”
The Florida Department of State as well as all county supervisors of elections reached in the last 24 hours remain insistent that their systems were not “penetrated” and that no voting records were reached. Since last year, some counties, including Hillsborough, acknowledged they received a phishing scam email, however, no one opened it. Volusia County said it opened one of the infected emails, but not the attachment that could have generated problems.
“We’ve been in regular communication with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, ever since elections were declared critical infrastructure,” said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Election. "To our knowledge, no entity has gained access here in Hillsborough County.
Mueller’s report did not say which county was accessed and Nelson didn’t elaborate. Nor does Mueller explain what he means by “accessed.” His report also said that the Illinois state election board was “compromised," which appears more serious.
The report also didn’t verify that a Florida county’s supervisor of elections office was accessed, rather, it only says "one Florida county government.” It could have been a county government agency unrelated to elections.
“Upon learning of the new information released in the Mueller report, the Department (of State) immediately reached out to the FBI to inquire which county may have been accessed, and they declined to share this information with us,” spokesperson Sarah Revell said in an email.
Nelson remarks last year came in the middle of his Senate race with Republican Rick Scott. Scott eventually won in a recount. During the campaign, Scott repeatedly criticized Nelson for being either confused or careless with classified information.
At one point, Nelson was asked to specify. “That’s classified,” he said. He then disappeared for several days, leaving many state election officials wondering what he meant.
Once again, Nelson could not be reached for further comment.