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FL Gov: Nelson 'Making Things Up' About Russian Hacking

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/10/2018 Ramsey Touchberry
(L-R), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Florida Governor Rick Scott speak to the media about Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017, in Doral, Florida.: Rick Scott Says Bill Nelson is 'Making Things Up' About Russian Inference © Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images Rick Scott Says Bill Nelson is 'Making Things Up' About Russian Inference

Florida Governor Rick Scott called on Senator Bill Nelson Friday to provide proof of his recent claims that Russia has infiltrated some of the state’s voter registration system, suggesting Nelson is “simply making things up.”

"This cannot be overlooked – either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida election officials, or he is simply making things up," Scott said at a campaign event in Tampa. Scott, a Republican, is running against Nelson, a Democrat, this November for U.S. Senate.

"Did Nelson illegally release some classified information?” Scott asked. “Or did he make this charge of Russian penetration up?" 

Jackie McGuinness, a spokesperson for Nelson, told Newsweek Friday immediately following Scott’s comments that there was nothing new to add in regard to Nelson’s previous statements. Most recently, Nelson said in a brief statement Thursday night he hopes “the appropriate federal officials find a way to immediately provide them all the information.”

Scott’s demands follow Nelson’s claims Tuesday and Wednesday that Russia “already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about." He also claimed the “Russians are in your records and all they have to do, if those election records are not protected, is to go in and start eliminating registered voters.”

When pressed further, Nelson said the matter was “classified.”

Local, state and national officials have since said there has been zero evidence of Russian interference to support his claim. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security told Newsweek Thursday there weren’t “any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure.” The Florida Department of State also said there was “zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims.”

With Nelson offering few details as to how and where he obtained his information, his claim has left local and state agencies both concerned and confused.

In an attempt to gain more information, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr, Thursday evening. Detzner said he was "very concerned" with Nelson's claims and asked for clarification. 

"Let me be clear, this is a very serious charge made in a public setting without any evidence, details or prior communication to state or local election officials in Florida," Detzner said. With Florida’s primary election just three weeks and early voting starting Monday, he said Nelson's comments only served to "erode public trust in our elections at a critical time."

Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that he and his fellow Florida senator, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, were asked by Burr and the vice chairman to alert “supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.”

Burr’s office did not respond for comment Thursday and Vice Chairman Mark Warner would not address the matter directly in a statement to Newsweek, saying: “Russian activities continue to pose a threat to the security of our elections.”

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