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Florida lawmakers will get briefed on Russian, Iranian election interference

The Director of National Intelligence changed its mind on Tuesday and said his office would brief two Florida members of Congress on Iranian and Russian efforts to undermine the 2020 election.
In this Dec. 9, 2019 photo, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during the House impeachment inquiry hearings in Washington. Now he is the National Intelligence Director.
In this Dec. 9, 2019 photo, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during the House impeachment inquiry hearings in Washington. Now he is the National Intelligence Director. [ DOUG MILLS | AP ]
Published Oct. 27, 2020
Updated Oct. 27, 2020

Reversing course, the office of the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday agreed to brief Florida U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Michael Waltz on the efforts by Iran and Russia to undermine the 2020 election in the Sunshine State.

Murphy and Waltz had asked the FBI to brief the Florida congressional delegation on the matter by Oct. 30. But on Monday afternoon, the request for a pre-Election Day briefing was turned down due to a “lack of bandwidth prior to the election.”

Then, on Tuesday morning, Ratcliffe’s office reversed course and scheduled a briefing on the matter for Friday morning..

“(Ratcliffe’s office) is working with Representatives Waltz and Murphy to provide them details on the most recent threat reporting impacting their districts,” a spokesperson said in an email to the Times/Herald.

Ratcliffe did not respond when asked if other lawmakers from Florida would be included in the briefing. The congressional districts represented by Murphy and Waltz do not include all counties targeted by the emails.

In Florida, voters in at least six counties received hundreds of threatening emails last week from a sender purporting to be affiliated with the Proud Boys. The sender claimed to have voters' personal information, and ordered them to vote for President Donald Trump or “we will come after you.”

A day after voters received the emails, the U.S. government concluded Iran and Russia had obtained American voter registration data, and that Iran used the information to send threatening, spoofed emails to voters.

Waltz, a Northeast Florida Republican, on Tuesday morning said his office was working to schedule a briefing as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. By the end of Tuesday, the meeting time changed to Friday morning, Murphy’s office confirmed.

“It’s a bipartisan issue to protect our elections and we are working on scheduling this with multiple agencies, as early as today or tomorrow,” Waltz said.

Other lawmakers from Florida were informed of Ratcliffe’s decision to change course from Murphy and Waltz’s offices.

In Washington, members of Congress typically received classified briefings in a secure facility. There are such secure facilities in the U.S. Capitol, but Congress is not in Washington ahead of Election Day. That means any lawmakers who want to attend will need to find a secure facility in Florida, which can be found at military installations or FBI field offices.

Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Northwest Florida Republican, said he spoke with Ratcliffe’s office on Monday regarding election interference.

“I cannot comment on the substance,” Gaetz said.

Florida, the nation’s most populous swing state, was among at least four states targeted by the emails. Alachua, Collier, Brevard, Flagler, Escambia and Citrus counties were among the Florida counties that had reports of the threatening emails.

The emails featured misleading claims about voting information. For example, the sender claimed they were in possession of voters' information because they had “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure” and said they “will know which candidate you voted for.”

In Florida, voter registration data — including names, addresses, emails, dates of birth and party affiliations — is public record, votes are private.

Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”

Democrats, however, were skeptical of Ratcliffe’s claim that the emails were meant to hurt Trump.

The House Homeland Security Committee — which is run by Democrats — said Wednesday on Twitter that, “These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” and then added that Ratcliffe has “politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the president.”

Ceballos reported from the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Bureau in Tallahassee, and Daugherty reported from the McClatchy Bureau in Washington, D.C.

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