Panhandle county that backed Trump among Russian hacking victims

This post is by Gary Fineout from Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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TALLAHASSEE — Russian hackers breached a county elections department in the Florida Panhandle where voters turned out heavily for President Donald Trump in 2018, according to a report confirmed by POLITICO.

Washington County was one two counties successfully hacked by Russians seeking voter information files. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in the past week have briefed Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s congressional delegation about the attack, but federal authorities have asked that the names of the two counties be kept confidential.

The Washington Post reported that Russians were able to access Washington County voter information files. A person in Florida familiar with the investigation confirmed that Washington County was targeted after the attack had been revealed by officials in Washington, D.C. Two people in Florida said they suspect the second hacked elections office was in a mid-sized county on the East Coast of the state.

While was known that Russians targeted Florida ahead of the 2016 election, the first confirmation that the effort was successful came in March, when special counsel Robert Mueller issued a report on Russian interference. The news jolted Florida officials, who had insisted that the effort three years ago was unsuccessful.

DeSantis this week revealed that Russians successfully accessed the voter information records of two counties. But he and other officials have emphasized the FBI’s position that the hacking did not affect vote tallying. There is no evidence of "manipulation” of voter information, according to DeSantis and others briefed by the bureau.

Washington County, which has roughly 25,000 residents, is in the middle of the Panhandle and north of Bay County, where Hurricane Michael made landfall last year. Trump in 2016 received 77 percent of the more than 11,000 votes cast in the county.

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation on Thursday expressed frustration that they are only now getting details about the successful intrusion.

While officials at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security say they have no evidence voter databases were tampered with by Russian hackers, "there’s more to follow there," said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) during a Capitol Hill press conference after a classified briefing from the agencies.

"We have a lot of questions across our delegation on how the FBI came to that determination," Waltz said.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) said lawmakers weren’t able to determine with "certainty" that the databases hadn’t been tampered with. The FBI, she said, told them hackers were able to "enter the garage" but not "the house" of the two county networks.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


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