Senator: Russia has 'penetrated' Florida counties ahead of midterms

Sen. Bill Nelson (Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP)

The Russian government has already “penetrated” some Florida state offices ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, according to a Democratic senator.

“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,” Sen. Bill Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.

Nelson, who is locked in a tough Senate reelection campaign against Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, told the newspaper that the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had told him to warn the election supervisors in Florida that the “Russians are in their records,” the Times reported.

Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Sara Sendek told Yahoo News that the agency tasked with securing the nation’s elections was unaware of a specific new breach by the Russians in Florida. 

“While we are aware of Senator Nelson’s recent statements, we have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure. That said, we don’t need to wait for a specific threat to be ready,” Sendek said in a written statement. “DHS and Florida state and county officials have partnered on a number of initiatives to secure their election systems, including sharing threat information between the federal, state and local governments, conducting training for county election supervisors, and providing technical assistance to counties — as we are with other jurisdictions across the country.”

Efforts by Russian “bad actors” to penetrate Florida’s election system have been widely reported. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers includes charges that Florida had been the victim of multiple attempts to hack county election systems in the 2016 presidential election.

Nelson told reporters Wednesday that Russian attempts to meddle in the 2018 midterms likely include an effort to falsify voter registration rolls. 

“That’s exactly what the Russians want to do. They want to sow chaos in our democratic institutions,” Nelson said. 

Sen. Nelson’s office did not respond to a Yahoo News request for additional comment. A request for confirmation of Nelson’s claims from the FBI also went unanswered.

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