WASHINGTON — More of Florida’s elected officials are being briefed by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security about the two counties that were hacked during the 2016 election.
- State leaders being debriefed on Russian election hacking confirmation
- Lawmakers want more clarity from federal government on findings
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Those details were recently revealed in a news conference held by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week.
Last month, the state was singled out in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which concluded at least one county in Florida had been breached.
The entire congressional delegation is preparing for a classified briefing on Thursday at 10 a.m.
“It’s hard to address the problem when you don’t know the extent of what the nature of the problem is,” said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13th District).
Representatives Michael Waltz (R-6th District) and Stephanie Murphy (D-7th District), both former national security specialists at the Pentagon, have been leading the push for transparency.
Until this week, all indications were that federal officials had consistently told state and local officials that hacking threats in 2016 were unsuccessful. Now, the delegation wants answers after learning Russian hackers tapped into the voter registration files of two Florida counties in 2016.
“That was a little bit of a surprise, that’s not what we understood from the Mueller report,” Waltz said.
“I’m not sure why the Department of Justice and the FBI hasn’t been more forthcoming with information with the public. But, I will tell you that this veil of secrecy does as much to undermine the credibility of our elections system as having a foreign government interact or interfere in our elections,” Murphy said.
What will be made public?
Now, the delegation hopes to receive more clarity from the federal government, but it’s unclear what will be made public after DeSantis was not allowed to identify which two counties were infiltrated.
“My understanding is Gov. DeSantis had to sign a nondisclosure, because he doesn’t have security clearance on the federal level, while a member of Congress does,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-9th District). "However, if it is top secret information, I still may not be able to disclose it.”
The FBI did tell DeSantis that it notified the victims impacted by the breach years ago, but the counties impacted have yet to come forward, and officials have given no indication that they intend to identify them.
“We have to have better communication clearly between the state and federal government on these things so that the element of surprise isn’t something that we wake up to each and every day,” Rep. Crist said.
Russia’s intentions to target the state have been documented in a 2018 indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers and in the Mueller report.
“The Russians have and still are trying to interfere in our electoral system and penetrate our entire system frankly. We have to take action against that,” Waltz said.
Some have already sounded the alarm
However, some elected officials like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) have been sounding the alarm even longer.
“The Russian Intelligence agencies were in a position to do much more than what they ultimately did,” Rubio said during a press conference on August 8, 2018.
Nelson made a similar assertion about the hacking last year.
“I think it’s very clear that the Russians disrupted our last election,” the former Senator said in an interview with Spectrum News on July 13, 2018.
Nelson faced backlash after he was unable to provide evidence of his claims. However, he continues to stand by those statements.
“The Mueller Report makes clear why we had to take that important step as well as my verbal warnings thereafter,” Nelson said in a statement.
Those warnings, lawmakers hope they can better understand tomorrow.
“One of the things I’ll be looking for in the briefing is an explanation as to why they have been keeping so much under wraps,” said Murphy.
Lawmakers say they will evaluate their next steps following the classified briefing on Thursday.