U.S. lawmakers from Florida are amplifying their calls for classified briefings on a potential cybersecurity breach during the 2016 election, prompted by a single, mysterious line in special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian interference.
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“The FBI needs to brief the Florida delegation on exactly what Russia did and which counties were involved so we can protect our elections and the voters,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said Thursday in a joint call for more information with his Democratic colleague Rep. Stephanie Murphy.
The House members’ demand follows others made by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., after the Mueller report’s publication last month.
The FBI has reportedly agreed to those earlier requests for briefings. And during an otherwise contentious Senate hearing Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr said he would arrange for the full Senate to be briefed on the reported Russian hack, at the request of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
The concern grew out of a line in the Mueller report, which said the FBI suspected Russian military intelligence hackers were able to “gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government” through a spear-phishing campaign. Mueller said his investigators did not verify the suspicion, deferring to the FBI.
After the 2016 election, a top Department of Homeland Security official said that likely all 50 states were targeted by Russian hackers, who probed the systems for vulnerabilities – which some officials have compared to rattling door handles – and some got through, though the U.S. government did not assess it had an impact on the actual vote count.
“In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted,” DHS said in a statement in February 2018.
A report prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee in May 2018 said that in a “small number of states” Russian-affiliated cyber actors were “in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete registration data; however they did not appear to be in a position to manipulate individual votes or aggregate vote totals.”
The Mueller report alarmed Florida officials because while it was specific enough to say a county system had apparently been infiltrated, it didn’t say which county.
“They won’t tell us which county is was. Are you kidding me? Why would you not say something immediately?” DeSantis said in late April, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“Florida voters have the right to know the extent to which foreign actors may have breached our state’s election security systems, and what the federal government is doing to prevent it from happening again,” Rep. Murphy said Thursday.
The FBI declined to comment for this report.