Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R.) unloaded on Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) Friday for saying earlier this week that the state's election systems had been compromised by Russian hackers.
Scott, who is running for Senate against Nelson, expressed his confidence in the officials working on Florida’s election system, touting the measures they’ve taken but also accusing the senator of scare tactics. Early voting begins Monday for primaries in Florida, which will be held Aug. 28, and state officials have not corroborated Nelson’s claims.
"In our conversations with federal officials, and in public statements including from our supervisors of elections, so far, no one seems to know what Nelson is talking about," Scott said in a statement. "This cannot be swept under the rug. Bill Nelson must come clean and provide a thorough explanation. Elections are not something to try to scare people about."
The senator's campaign directed the Washington Free Beacon to his Senate office for comment, which did not respond before publishing time.
Nelson does not serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, although he is the ranking member of the cybersecurity subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Scott said the state has been cooperating with federal officials to keep the election secure and questioned how Nelson could know classified information Florida officials don’t have.
"If Nelson does have secret classified information on this, how did he get it? Did Homeland security give him a briefing on it? He’s not in the intelligence committee," Scott said. "Did the intelligence committee provide him with a briefing on this classified information he says he knows?"
Nelson on Wednesday said Russian operatives have "free rein" in some of Florida’s election systems.
"They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about," Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. "The threat is real and elections officials — at all levels — need to address the vulnerabilities."
Scott contradicted this directly.
"We have free and fair elections in Florida with no fraud. And while we know there are threats out there, we have taken every precaution to keep it that way," he said "It’s also important to note that we have worked constantly with our state and federal partners, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI."
Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith said Nelson has "egg on his face" after failing to provide evidence.
Scott argued Nelson is making an explosive charge by saying the Trump administration is keeping vital information from Florida’s election officials.
"Nelson is now accusing the Administration of withholding important information from Florida election officials that could protect our election process here in Florida," Scott said. "That is a very serious charge, for which Bill Nelson has provided no proof."
Polls show Scott has closed the gap on Nelson, a three-term senator, with RealClearPolitics rating the race a toss-up. Nelson’s lack of evidence for his claim has drawn national media attention; MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd called it an "unforced error."
Scott said people should not ignore Nelson’s words.
"This cannot be overlooked – either Bill Nelson knows of crucial information the federal government is withholding from Florida election officials, or he is simply making things up," Scott said.