FL Guv: Russians Hacked Two Counties’ Voter Files In ’16, Didn’t Change Vote

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the bill signing ceremony on Education Achievements at William J. Kirlew Junior Academy in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the bill signing ceremony on Education Achievements at William J. Kirlew Junior Academy in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
May 14, 2019 5:13 p.m.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) confirmed Tuesday that two Florida counties “experienced intrusion” in 2016 by Russian hackers who were then able to access voter data as a result of their hacking efforts. But the hacks did not affect the vote count, DeSantis said.

The Republican governor announced the news in a press conference after a recent meeting with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

“Two Florida counties experienced intrusion into the supervisor of election networks” in 2016, DeSantis said. “There was no manipulation or anything, but there was voter data that was able to be gotten.”

“Now, that voter data, I think, was public anyways,” he added. “Nevertheless, those were intrusions.”

DeSantis said that his meeting with federal officials was “concerning the election issue mentioned in the Mueller report,” and later noted the intrusion followed a “spear phishing” attempt, in which hackers used a innocent-looking email attachment — known as a “trojan” — that in reality had malicious software.

Someone clicked on it, so someone was able to get access to things,” DeSantis said.

The governor has said he only learned of the intrusion from Mueller’s report’s reference to the FBI’s efforts, rather than from the FBI itself. Per the Tampa Bay Times, he also said Tuesday that he’d agreed not to name the counties affected.

“I’m not allowed to name the counties. I signed a [non-]disclosure agreement,” he said, according to the Times.

Special counsel Robert Mueller said in his redacted final report that the Russian GRU “sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election.”

The FBI, Mueller wrote, “believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”

DeSantis’ press conference follows Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) assertion in April that hackers were “in a position” to change voter data. DeSantis responded with exasperation at the time: “They won’t tell us which county it was. Are you kidding me?”

Another politician who raised alarms about Russian hacking efforts, former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), was criticized during his 2018 campaign after he said that Russians were accessing voter records “right now.” DeSantis didn’t say Tuesday that any intrusion was ongoing as of 2018; he addressed only 2016.

Aside from the two Florida counties, TPM’s Tierney Sneed reported in July that a grand jury indictment in Mueller’s investigation detailed the theft of 500,000 voters’ information in July 2016. Mueller’s final report confirmed that that incident was a breach of the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

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