Elections

FBI to meet with Florida governor to discuss election-hacking attempts by Russians

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks with members of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians General Council, Thursday, April 25, 2019, at the Miccosukee Village, West of Miami, in the Florida Everglades.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks with members of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians General Council, Thursday, April 25, 2019, at the Miccosukee Village, West of Miami, in the Florida Everglades. AP

Silent so far on new information that Russian hackers may have phished their way into a local elections office, the FBI has agreed to meet next month with Florida officials to brief them on the topic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott each said Thursday that the FBI has reached out about scheduling a meeting within the next few weeks to discuss election hacking. Both the current and former governor have been critical of federal authorities for remaining silent in the weeks since Robert Mueller’s Russian elections interference report said the FBI believes Russian hackers were able to “gain access” to “at least one” Florida county government computer network.

“They won’t tell us which county it was. Are you kidding me? Why would you not say something immediately?” DeSantis said Thursday in Miami, where he made an appearance to name two new members of the Third District Court of Appeal. “We’re looking for answers. I think finally next week we’re going to get somebody, or maybe the week after we’re going to have somebody come brief us on what happened.”

DeSantis’ office said no additional details were available about a future meeting. The FBI declined to comment.

It was widely known long before Mueller’s report was published last week that hackers tried to worm their way into Florida elections offices by sending emails with malware-laced attachments. At least 120 emails, which Mueller confirmed were sent by hackers associated with the Russian intelligence agency GRU, were created to look like they were coming from a popular elections vendor.

But Mueller’s report was the first official statement to indicate that any of those attempts may have been successful.

Some local election officials have confirmed that they received emails made to look like they were coming from vendor VR Systems, but none say they were successfully hacked. On Thursday, Broward’s elections office confirmed for the first time that it, too, received three of the fake emails but only after the office’s email quarantine system flagged the attachments and kept them from being opened.

“These emails were sent to [Supervisor] Dr. Brenda Snipes, Patricia Santiago, and our elections mailbox. They were sent in 2016 and contained an attachment that was identified by our email antivirus system as being compromised,” current Supervisor Peter Antonacci wrote in an email. “Based on what we now know, the emails were not opened by the recipients in our office.”

Florida election officials continue to insist that they have no evidence to suggest that the network was hacked. Secretary of State Laurel Lee says she spoke with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after the Mueller report was released and was assured that the 2016 election results were not affected.

Whatever he learns, DeSantis told reporters Thursday that he’ll share it with the public unless doing so would be illegal.

“We’re going to make it public,” DeSantis told reporters. “Unless somehow it’s classified, the public has a right to know what may have happened.”

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