DeSantis: Russia accessed databases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Russian hackers gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.

DeSantis said the hackers didn’t manipulate any data and the election results weren’t compromised. He and officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were briefed by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Friday.

The governor said he signed an agreement with the FBI not to disclose the names of the counties, but elections officials in those counties are aware of the intrusions.

One person who wasn’t aware was DeSantis’ predecessor, now-Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, DeSantis said.

“We’re trying to figure out what the state knew at the time,” DeSantis said.

He said the hackers gained access through a spear-phishing email after a worker clicked a link.

Scott criticized his opponent in last year’s election, then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, for saying Russians had hacked elections systems and had “free rein to move about” ahead of last year’s midterm election. Scott called the allegations sensational.

Scott will receive a briefing today from the FBI, said spokesman Chris Hartline.

“It’s pretty clear during our back and forth in the campaign there was no information provided to the state,” Hartline said.

Nelson said last August that Russians had penetrated the systems of certain Florida counties and had “free rein to move about” ahead of last year’s midterm election.

After Nelson’s comments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint letter that they saw no signs of any “new or ongoing compromises” of state or local election systems.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election also said hackers gained access to the network of at least one Florida county.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has previously said at least one Florida county had an intrusion.

Rubio said Tuesday that he’s repeatedly voiced concerns since last spring about overconfidence among some Florida election officials and has urged them to take cyber threats seriously.

“These are nation state threats with significant resources and assets at their disposal,” Rubio said. “Florida is a major swing state that often decides presidential elections, making us a top target.”

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