Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) was filmed Tuesday explaining his allegation of Russians compromising Florida voting systems was based on the assumption Russia would do what it tried to do in the past.
This is noticeably less dire of a warning than what he said last week when he told the Tampa Bay Times that Russian operatives "already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about."
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Nelson was not aware he was being filmed in Lake City, Fla., and once he realized it, the video ends. Before that point, however, he defended his comments by citing a July 2 letter he wrote with fellow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R.) warning Florida election officials Russia may try to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections as they tried to do in 2016.
Last week, Nelson went beyond what the letter said, declaring classified information showed Russians were already in Florida’s system. In the video Tuesday, he admitted he was just assuming so and fell back on the letter he wrote with Rubio.
"What that letter says is, in essence, it would be foolish to think if the Russians were in our election apparatus in Florida in 2016 and that has now been twice documented…it would be foolish to think that if [the Russians] were in the election records in 2016 that they are not continuing," he said.
Nelson, who is running for re-election against Gov. Rick Scott (R.), maintains he has been consistent on this issue. He said his opponents have used his comments "for partisan political purposes."
"What has happened is, this has gotten political." he said. "Certain political public figures have taken that and tried to use it for partisan political purposes."
Scott has publicly criticized Nelson for trying to "scare people" with his comments, and reporters and other media figures have chided Nelson for getting ahead of the facts on this issue.
Florida election officials said the Department of Homeland Security has not corroborated Nelson’s claim that Russians infiltrated the state’s election system. DHS said last week it hasn’t seen "any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure."
Scott has touted the millions Florida has spent on election security, and his appointee for secretary of state Ken Detzner said they haven’t seen evidence of Russian intrusion.
"To the best of our knowledge and the knowledge of our federal partners, Florida’s voting systems and elections databases remain secure and there has been no intrusion of the Florida voter registration system and no reported breaches from locally elected supervisors of election," Detzner said.
The Washington Free Beacon contacted Nelson's office for comment and will update this story once a response is received.