Sen. Bill Nelson claimed Russians are meddling in the Florida election system again (or did he?)

Last week Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida claimed that Russians were already involved in hacking into the Florida election system. Nelson claimed he’d heard that from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr. But Nelson’s 2018 rival Gov. Rick Scott has suggested there’s no evidence to back up Nelson’s claim and that, at best, he may have revealed classified information. From Business Insider:

It started when Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times that Russians were interfering in the 2018 campaigns in Florida.

“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,” he said, adding that elaborating any further was classified…

“Either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida elections officials or he is simply making things up,” Scott said at a campaign event. “Did Nelson illegally release some classified information? Or did he make this charge of Russian penetration up?”

Florida Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that the agency “has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims.”

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner asked the FBI and DHS for information on Sen. Nelson’s claim but those agencies have not replied. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr did reply by letter to Detzner but his letter refused to confirm or deny the claim (which again, Nelson claims originated with him):

Tuesday, Sen. Nelson was recorded speaking at a private gathering in which he attempted to explain his comments (video below). From the Washington Times:

On Tuesday, Mr. Nelson carefully avoided leveling such a pointed charge, although at one point he allowed, “this senator doesn’t know what counties they’re in,” in reference to the Russians.

“That is very closely held by the intelligence community,” he added, “because they don’t want to tip off the Russians that we know. Otherwise, they will figure out how they got that information.”

Mr. Nelson went on Tuesday to argue it was “foolish to think if they were in the election records in 2016 that they are not continuing,” which is a more general proposition than he was quoted as giving earlier…

Republican officials said Wednesday Mr. Nelson’s words were disingenuous, arguing the senator can’t claim he is protecting the intelligence community when he apparently tipped off the Russians himself last week.

“He’s either lying or circling back to try to cover up that he leaked classified information,” said Taryn Fenske, the Florida communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Nelson does seem to be trying to minimize his previous claim but maybe that’s because he wasn’t supposed to reveal what he’d been told by Burr. But if DHS and the FBI were keeping this quiet to avoid alerting the Russians were up to, hasn’t Nelson blown their cover? At this point, why wouldn’t the agencies involved just come forward and let the public know what is going on?

The only alternative is that Nelson was assuming that since the Russians were poking around in 2016, they must still be doing so. That also seems pretty irresponsible on his part. Here’s the video of his most recent explanation. As you’ll see at the end, when he realizes someone is recording him, he asks if they are part of the media and then the clip cuts off.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023