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Ethics Complaint Filed against Bill Nelson over Russian-Hacking Claims

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)

A conservative watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against Senator Bill Nelson for his unsubstantiated claim that Russians “penetrated” Florida’s election systems.

In its complaint, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) charged that Nelson’s claim appears to have violated Senate Rules and Regulations.

“If Nelson’s statements were true, then he apparently was discussing and disclosing classified information he received from the Senate Intelligence Committee in violation of Senate rules and federal law,” reads the watchdog’s letter to Senators Johnny Isakson and Chris Coons, chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. “If Nelson’s statements are false, he disseminated false information on an issue of serious public concern with the authority of the Senate simply for political purposes.”

Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times this month that Russian actors “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.” He later doubled down on his statement, answering “of course,” when asked on CNN whether he stood by his claim. But after the Florida Department of State said it had no knowledge of any such Russian infiltration, he attempted to backtrack.

“I want you to know why I said what I said,” the Florida Democrat told supporters last week at a campaign event in Lake City. “It would be foolish to think if the Russians were in our election apparatus in Florida in 2016 and that has now been twice documented . . . that they are not continuing.”

“If Senator Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida,” said Florida State Department spokeswoman Sarah Revell.

The FBI and DHS on Monday also pushed back against Nelson’s claim.

“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,” DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI director Christopher Wray wrote in a letter to Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner.

Nelson has accused his critics of twisting his comments “for partisan political purposes.”

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