Florida Governor Rick Scott Suggests Bill Nelson is 'Making Things Up' About Russian Interference

Florida Governor Rick Scott called on Senator Bill Nelson Friday to provide proof of his recent claims that Russians had infiltrated Florida's voting systems, suggesting Nelson was "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, and Nelson, a Democrat are competing against each other in a close U.S. Senate race.

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

In a statement sent to Newsweek Friday afternoon, Nelson fired back at the governor's comments.

"I and several of my Senate colleagues are trying to make sure Florida officials are aware of the ongoing Russian threat so they take the steps necessary to safeguard our elections," Nelson said. "It's unfortunate that some Florida officials would try to use this issue for personal, political gain."

Scott's demands follow Nelson's claims Tuesday and Wednesday that Russia had "already penetrated certain counties in the state, and they now have free rein to move about." He also said 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."

In a statement to Newsweek Friday, Nelson's fellow Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio did not directly address the Democrat's remarks, saying the "state's election systems have been and will remain a potentially attractive target for attacks by foreign actors."

"While I firmly believe states should remain in the lead on conducting elections, the federal government should stand ready to assist as needed in confronting actual or potential attacks from determined foreign adversaries," Rubio said.

Local, state and national officials have since said there has been zero evidence of Russian interference to support Nelson's 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 Senator Richard Burr, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Thursday evening. Detzner said he was "very concerned" about 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 away and early voting starting Monday, he said Nelson's comments only served to "erode public trust in our elections at a critical time."

In Burr's response to Detzner Friday afternoon, he seemed to suggest he did not have any information regarding Nelson's claims, saying that "any briefings or notifications about ongoing threats would, rightfully, come from those agencies."

"While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson's recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those Federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions–specifically, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of investigation," Burr said.

Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that he and Rubio were asked by Burr and the vice chairman to alert "supervisors of elections in Florida know that the Russians are in their records."

Burr's office did not respond to a request 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."

This story has been updated to include statements to Newsweek from Rubio and Nelson.

Florida Governor Rick Scott Suggests Bill Nelson is 'Making Things Up' About Russian Interference | U.S.
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