Sen. Bill Nelson appeared to admit that his claim that Russians penetrated Florida’s election systems was just an assumption.
The Florida Democrat was recorded at a campaign stop Tuesday attempting to deflect criticism that he either lied or leaked classified information with his bombshell claim last week.
Nelson claimed last week that he heard about Russian hacking in Florida through Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who refused to confirm or deny the claim in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Burr responds to Florida’s chief election official: pic.twitter.com/rCqdXB885i
— Alex Leary (@learyreports) August 10, 2018
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State said they have received “no evidence to support these claims” by Nelson, according to The Washington Times.
Recorded speaking at a private gathering in Lake City, Nelson said that Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina “came to me and Marco Rubio and said, ‘we have a problem in Florida.’ That the Russians are in the records. We think the two of you should warn the election apparatus of Florida.”
Though he carefully avoided making the bold claim about Russian hacking in Tuesday’s gathering, Nelson did at one point say “this senator doesn’t know what counties they’re in,” referring to the Russians.
CAUGHT ON TAPE: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) admits his claim that Russians penetrated FL election systems in 2018 was just an assumption, saying since Russians did it in 2016 it’s foolish to think they’re not continuing. https://t.co/rSSupsRT5a pic.twitter.com/cUjXQos2Pa
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 15, 2018
“That is very closely held by the intelligence community,” he said, “because they don’t want to tip off the Russians that we know. Otherwise, they will figure out how they got that information.”
He added a more general comment than his previous claims, stating that it is “foolish to think if they were in the election records in 2016 that they are not continuing.”
Nelson’s 2018 GOP Senate rival, Gov. Rick Scott, has questioned Nelson’s claims and suggested he made the whole thing up.
“Either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida elections officials or he is simply making things up,” Scott said at a campaign event, according to Business Insider. “Did Nelson illegally release some classified information? Or did he make this charge of Russian penetration up?”
It’s been a week since Bill Nelson made some very serious claims about our election security, but he still hasn’t shared any details or shown any proof. He’s either lying or withholding important information about our elections.
— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) August 15, 2018
“At this point, people in Florida are just more confused,” Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for the Scott campaign, said. “This is so important to the public but we’re just not getting questions answered.”
“He’s either lying or circling back to try to cover up that he leaked classified information,” Taryn Fenske, the Florida communications director for the Republican National Committee, said.
At the end of the video, Nelson assured the unseen audience, “I don’t think Suwannee County is involved, I doubt it,” but thought Russians would likely target more hotly contested areas.
“What they’re going to do is they’re going to try to find, I assume, is a swing county that they can go in, since they penetrated in, and then just go and alter some records,” he said. “Eliminate some of the voters from the file, or something more simple. …”
At the end of the recording, Nelson turned to the camera and asked, “Are you with the press?” as the video ended.