TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he met with FBI officials who confirmed that Russian hackers gained access to voter data in two Florida counties during the 2016 election, but that election results were not compromised.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in 2016 said that ‘spearfishing’ emails were sent to more than 120 e-mail accounts used by Florida county elections officials and employees of technology vendors in advance of the Nov. 8 election.
“There was no manipulation or anything, but there was voter data that was able to be got,” DeSantis said. “But I think that voter data was public anyway. Nevertheless, those were intrusions.”
“It did not affect any voting or anything like that,” he added.
DeSantis said he signed an agreement with the FBI not to identify the counties, but added that elections officials in those counties were made aware of the intrusions before Election Day that year.
The spearfishing emails when opened allowed hackers to gain access to the elections online network. The emails sent appeared to come from an election equipment manufacturer, VR Systems of Tallahassee, but were actually from a non-company account.
The Mueller report says that malware was also planted in the manufacturer’s systems, which the company denies. VR has deployed private and federal analysts to assess its security efforts and maintains its systems were never hacked.
The governor said he recently met in Tallahassee with FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials from Washington, who were joined by representatives of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Secretary of State Laurel Lee, the state’s top elections official.
At the time the Mueller report came out, the FBI declined to give DeSantis further detail on the finding that “at least one” Florida county had been targeted.
“It’s important that if there is a threat, it’s important that we know at the state level,” he said.
While DeSantis said that officials in the targeted counties were informed before the election, agencies under his predecessor, Gov. Rick Scott, apparently were not told of the intrusion and “they did not know this was going on.”
Scott during last year’s campaign against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson accused his Democratic rival of being irresponsible when he said the Russian hackers had penetrated county elections systems in Florida two years earlier.
Nelson said his comments were based on his exchange with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Scott, who narrowly defeated Nelson last November, said last August, “Either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida election officials, or he is simply making things up.”