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. “Obviously, the previous administration and the head of FDLE did not have that information.”
He said the hackers gained access through a spearfishing 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. Scott called the allegations sensational.
Scott will receive a briefing from the FBI on Wednesday, said spokesman Chris Hartline. Hartline confirmed that Scott wasn’t aware of the hacking while he was serving as governor.
“It’s pretty clear during our back and forth in the campaign there was no information provided to the state,” Hartline said. “There will be a lot of questions … We’ll know more tomorrow.”
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.
DeSantis said he was frustrated when he saw the vague reference to hacking in Mueller’s report.
“Hey, this shows up in the Mueller report, no one ever said anything to me,” DeSantis said. “Granted, I took office in 2019 and this happened in 2016, so I get why the FBI wouldn’t have rushed to tell me about something several years ago.”
He did say the FBI and Homeland Security officials said Florida is ahead of the curve in elections cybersecurity ahead of the 2020 election — though he warned that attacks change constantly.
“Threats evolve, so I don’t ever want to say, ‘Hey, there’s no more threats.’ It’s just something you’ve always got to be vigilant about.”