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FBI, DHS Refute Bill Nelson’s Claim That Russians ‘Penetrated’ Florida Election Systems

Senator Bill Nelson (D, Fla.) testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 14, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Monday refuted Senator Bill Nelson’s claim that Russians have already “penetrated” Florida’s election apparatus this midterm cycle.

“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.

“DHS and the FBI will continue to notify any victim of a successful cyber intrusion into their election network in any jurisdiction nationwide,” said the letter, obtained by The Hill. “Every local jurisdiction could be a potential target this election season, whether through malicious cyber operations or influence operations.”

Earlier this month, Nelson told the the Tampa Bay Times that Russians “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”

He later told CNN that “of course” he stands by his comments, before attempting to backtrack from them last week.

“I want you to know why I said what I said,” the Florida Democrat was filmed telling supporters 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.”

Florida governor Rick Scott, the Republican challenging Nelson for his Senate seat this fall, demanded that the senator provide proof of his claim and pointed out that if it is true, he could have improperly revealed classified information.

The Republican National Committee jumped on the controversy and posted the video of the Lake City event on one of its official YouTube channels.

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

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