August 21, 2018

FBI, Homeland Security say Russians aren’t inside Florida election systems

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty

The two federal agencies tasked with informing state and local officials about ongoing interference in Florida’s election systems say they have not seen any new or ongoing Russian attempts to compromise local election infrastructure.

“Although we have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida, Russian government actors have previously demonstrated both the intent and capability to conduct malicious cyber operations,” said a letter from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “DHS and the FBI will continue to notify any victim of a successful cyber intrusion into their election network in any jurisdiction nationwide.”

The letter comes two weeks after Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson first mentioned that Russians “penetrated” Florida’s election systems ahead of the 2018 election. He declined to go into further detail, arguing that the basis of his assertion was classified.

Since then, the Miami Herald and NBC News reported that government officials say there is information that shows Nelson is right, though the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified.

Nelson is in the midst of a contentious and expensive reelection bid against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees the Florida secretary of state’s office.

“Secretary Detzner sent a letter to DHS and the FBI and we have now received their response which continues to offer no evidence or information to corroborate Senator Nelson’s claims,” a statement from the secretary of state’s office said.

Nelson’s spokesperson said there’s nothing in the letter that proves Nelson wrong.

“In my opinion, there’s nothing in this letter that contradicts what Sen. Nelson said he was told a few months ago, and what he and Sen. Rubio have tried to warn about in order to guard against Russian meddling in our elections,” Nelson spokesperson Ryan Brown said in a statement. “The governor of Florida has a security clearance and could have quickly and directly received information, answers and posed any questions instead of engaging in these confusing and partisan histrionics of the past week.”

Read more here.

August 18, 2018

Florida election officials seek info as support builds for Nelson’s Russian-hack claim

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty @greggordon2

Florida election officials said Saturday they are seeking more information to combat any possibility of ongoing hacking efforts on county voting systems, as support mounted over the weekend for Sen. Bill Nelson’s recent claims that Russian operatives have “penetrated” some county voter registration databases in Florida ahead of the 2018 elections.

A U.S. government official familiar with the matter confirmed to McClatchy on Saturday an NBC news report that Nelson was right when he said Russian hackers had “penetrated” some of Florida’s county voting systems. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told Nelson recently that operatives working for Russia penetrated some county voter registration databases in Florida. That appears to represent new information about fallout from a Russian hacking operation nearly two years ago and not evidence of a fresh attack, the government official familiar with the matter said.

And on Saturday, Nelson defended himself against claims by Gov. Rick Scott, his likely opponent in a hotly contested U.S. Senate election, that he was careless with classified information.

“I did exactly what the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee — both the Republican chairman and the vice-Chairman — asked Marco Rubio and I to give that warning. And to give it to the supervisors, which we did,” Nelson said at a campaign stop in Tampa. “I think now that Marco Rubio and I have brought it to everybody’s attention, despite the attempts at politicization of it by Gov. Scott, I think now that it’s out there on the open on what is the potential threat, I think the supervisors will make sure that their systems are secure.”

However, the U.S. government official who spoke to McClatchy said Nelson overstated the threat in saying on Aug. 7 that, after penetrating county voter registration databases, Russian cyber operatives “now have free rein to move about.” Nelson since has voiced concerns that the Russians could tamper with voter registration databases, suppress votes and create chaos at the polls on Election Day.

Details of the extent of any election security threat from the Russians’ penetration of Florida counties are classified, and the limited information that has leaked presents a confusing picture.

Florida officials faced with the prospect of ongoing hacking attempts say they’ve seen no evidence of voter information being altered as early primary voting continues in counties around the state.

Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County and the president of the state Association of Supervisors of Elections, said county-level election officials have not been informed of concrete steps they should take to inoculate themselves from the specific threat of ongoing Russian hacking attempts that Nelson has alluded to. Florida officials who do have access to classified information regarding the state’s voting systems typically receive briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

Read more here.

August 17, 2018

Nelson declares vindication on Russia hacking claim

Scott and nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson declared vindication Friday over his still unsubstantiated claim that Russians hacked into some county election systems in Florida, pointing to a news report that stated there is a "classified basis for Nelson's assertion."

The Florida Democrat tweeted a breaking news alert from NBC News. "Bill Nelson wasn't making things up when he said Russians hacked Florida election systems," it read.

The report was based on "three people familiar with the intelligence."

Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson for re-election, has accused Nelson of leaking classified information or simply fabricating the story, first disclosed to the Tampa Bay Times more than a week ago.

The Times has reported how top Republicans in Washington, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Sen. Marco Rubio, have issued statements that neither confirm or contradict what Nelson said.

[Bill Nelson: The Russians have penetrated some Florida voter registration systems]

The Florida Department of State did not respond to the NBC News report.

Instead, a spokeswoman pointed to a Thursday letter sent to Nelson from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, asking for evidence to support his claims.

"The Department of State has no evidence to support his claims at this time. We look forward to his response," the spokeswoman said Friday, responding for the governor as well.

As governor, Scott has a security clearance and could have requested a briefing from Washington officials but did not. A spokesman said that Detzner's office was handling communication with federal authorities.

Republican groups hammering away at Nelson reacted to the report by questioning if the Democrat "broke the law" by revealing classified information.

Rules for the Senate Intelligence Committee do say senators are not to disclose material and can be referred to the ethics committee if they do.

July 31, 2018

Bill Nelson wants to ban 3D printer-made plastic guns that can evade metal detectors

Plastic Guns

@alextdaugherty

In less than 24 hours, it could be possible to legally download blueprints that allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to make guns out of plastic.

Bill Nelson wants to ban it.

The Florida Democrat introduced a bill on Tuesday that would block the online publication of gun blueprints after the Trump administration decided to settle a lawsuit by a Texas anarchist who built a gun out of plastic in 2013 and posted the instructions online.

The Obama administration ordered the instructions to come down at the time, and the Department of Justice defended the government’s action in court after the anarchist sued for the right to publish until the Department of Justice reversed course in June.

“It just defies common sense and yet this is what the Trump administration has done,” Nelson said. “Just think of the billions of dollars we spend trying to protect national security. And now, suddenly there is going to be published on the internet the plans for making a gun that can evade the detection systems in airports and seaports and all of these governmental buildings as well as some sports stadiums.”

The blueprints could go online by midnight Wednesday unless Trump reverses course. On Tuesday morning Trump tweeted, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

Read more here.

July 20, 2018

Republicans peddle false attack against a Miami doctor who doesn't like Rick Scott

Gov Rick Scott

@alextdaugherty

On Wednesday, Rick Scott's Senate campaign and the Republican Party responded to an anti-Scott ad by arguing that a Miami doctor who attacks Scott "refuses to accept Medicaid patients" after railing against Scott's healthcare record in the 30-second TV spot paid for by a Democratic super PAC. 

Turns out, they were wrong. 

On Thursday, The Daily Caller, a conservative outlet, ran an article that parroted the attacks on Dr. David Woosley, a South Florida internist who works at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the Miami VA Medical Center. Their initial headline was "The Doctor in a Bill Nelson Medicaid-expansion ad doesn't accept Medicaid." 

But The Daily Caller updated their article on Friday with a new headline and the following editor's note: 

"The original published version of this article said Dr. David Woolsey himself does not accept Medicaid. While the Florida Department of Health states Jackson Memorial Hospital, the hospital where he practices, does not participate in Medicaid, the hospital clarified that it actually does accept patients on this program. Doctors are only permitted to accept insurance companies approved by the hospital or practice for which they work." 

The new headline is completely different: "Doctor in a Bill Nelson ad tries to hammer Rick Scott's health care stance." 

Scott's campaign initially aired the attack on Woosley in a press release on Wednesday, and the RNC followed suit on Thursday. The National Republican Senatorial Committee included the Daily Caller story in its weekly roundup of negative Senate news for Nelson. 

Senate Majority PAC communications director Chris Hayden, whose PAC spent $2.6 million on the advertisement, said the Scott campaign responded to a negative advertisement by lying about a constituent. 

"Dr. Woolsey treats patients with Medicaid at both of the hospitals he works at. He does not have a private practice," Hayden said in an email. "Florida's health care system is in a crisis and Governor Scott's response is to lie about a well-respected doctor. Governor Scott badly mismanaged Florida's health care system, and he should personally apologize for falsely attacking one of his constituents." 

Scott is spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to oust Nelson, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat. National groups are also expected to spend millions on a Senate seat that could decide which party controls the upper chamber of Congress.

UPDATE: Scott's campaign says their initial release pointed out that Woosley doesn't accept Medicaid based on the Florida Department of Health's website

"The release did NOT say that Jackson Memorial does not participate in Medicaid; it pointed out that this specific doctor has chosen not to participate," Scott spokesperson Kerri Wyland said in an email. "As a Florida doctor, he chooses whether or not to participate in the Medicaid program – with the knowledge that whatever answer he chooses will be publicly displayed for Floridians looking for healthcare professionals through the FLHealthSource webpage" 

 

 

Watch the ad below: 

July 16, 2018

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."

July 02, 2018

Bill Nelson expects to oppose Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee

Bill Nelson

via @adamsmithtimes

Sen. Bill Nelson shed his hyper-cautious reputation Monday, declaring that he expects to vote against President Donald Trump's nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Obviously I have to wait and see who the nominee is, but if, as President Trump has suggested, he's going to have a litmus test — and he said said this over and over — on Roe V. Wade, then I'm not going to be voting for some justice who's going to overturn Roe v. Wade," Nelson said following a Tampa news conference with local environmental advocates touting his record and criticizing Gov. Rick Scott's.

Nelson is among the most vulnerable Democratic senators running for reelection this year, and he faces intense pressure from both the left and right on what is probably the most consequential decision made so far by the president.

Nelson almost immediately faced pressure from both ends of the political spectrum, with liberals demanding he oppose Trump’s pick — or even allowing a vote — and conservatives seeking to exploit his running for re-election in a state Trump narrowly won.

Last week, am advocacy group called One Nation began running digital ad calling on Nelson to “say no to the left” and support Trump’s pick. The ad runs through Tuesday with a modest $10,000 behind it.

But “this is merely the first step in our full-fledged advocacy campaign for the nomination and confirmation of a constitutional conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said One Nation president Steven Law.

Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson, released a video ad Monday that deemed the Democrat a “rubber stamp” for President Obama’s judicial nominees and noted that he “voted against Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch.”

Read more here.

June 26, 2018

Some children held at Homestead facility have been unable to contact their parents

DETENTION CENTER0005 JAI

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Federal authorities have been unable to reconnect all children separated from their parents at the border because some of those parents may have already been deported with their kids remaining behind in U.S. custody, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s staff said on Tuesday.

Eight children now held at a South Dade migrant shelter haven’t been able to contact their parents, Nelson said.

Nelson said Barbara Flotus, the Homestead migrant shelter employee in charge of getting the children in touch with their parents, has been able to put 62 of the 70 children in touch with their parents.

Nelson's office said Health and Human Services officials told them that the reason eight children have not been in contact with their parents is because HHS has been unable to locate the parents, possibly because the adults have been deported.

Of the parents reached, 60 of them have requested their child be placed with sponsors or relatives in the U.S. while two have requested their child be sent back to their home country, Nelson said.

HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe did not confirm how many children at Homestead have been unable to reach their parents.

"Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of unaccompanied alien children, and we are working toward that for those unaccompanied alien children currently in our custody," Wolfe said in a email.

Nelson questioned HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the children separated from their parents t the border during congressional hearing on Tuesday.

"How many of those children have been able to be in contact by telephone with their parents from whom they were separated?" Nelson asked at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

"For any of them who have been separated from their parents at the time of the parents' detention by CBP (border patrol), within 2 hours of arriving at an ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) shelter, we endeavor to put them in touch, get them on the phone with their parents," Azar said. "Sometimes that can't happen, if for instance the parent has been located for criminal prosecution."

The Trump administration's decision to reopen a Homestead facility that once housed unaccompanied minors who tried to cross the border illegally during the Obama administration set off a spate of protests over the weekend, as lawmakers from both parties demanded an end to the Trump administration's practice that led to about 2,300 children being separated from their families.

Read more here.

South Florida Democrats lurch left with call to abolish ICE

Immigration_Oregon_Protests_40521

@alextdaugherty

Abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by starving it of cash is now in vogue among Democrats running for Congress in Miami.

Three of the five Democrats in a contested primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are in favor of abolishing the nation's immigration enforcement agency, a rallying cry of the far left that has gained rapid mainstream attention in recent weeks because of the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they cross the border illegally.

Former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, former state Rep. David Richardson and former University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn are all in favor of abolishing ICE by defunding the federal agency in Congress.

"The brutality of taking people out of their homes for 20 years has now sort of been fully seen," said Sean McElwee, an anti-deportation advocate who leads an ongoing abolish ICE effort on social media. "For a while, the only people I could get to agree with me were third-tier candidates, who I love and agree with but who don't have much of a chance...but now this has legs."

Over the weekend, four Democrats in Congress became the first elected officials in Washington to call for abolishing ICE. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan said Monday he plans to introduce legislation that would defund the agency, which has powers to conduct immigration checks within 100 miles of the border or coastline, a zone that includes the entire state of Florida.

Most Democrats don't want to abolish ICE, instead arguing that the agency's leadership and direction under the Trump administration is the problem, not the existence of the organization itself. McElwee estimates that about two dozen Democrats running for federal office out of around 1,000 declared candidates nationally have publicly endorsed abolishing ICE.

The two Miami-Dade Democrats running against Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who aren't facing competitive primaries, aren't on board. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he "hasn't considered" defunding ICE.

"ICE should be targeting and arresting people that pose an imminent threat to others, not just rounding up innocent-even if undocumented-people," said Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat running against Diaz-Balart. "It is neither reasonable nor practical to simply say 'let's abolish ICE,' but its enforcement priorities should be significantly adjusted."

"Abolishing ICE is not the answer," said Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is running against Curbelo. "I believe the agency must correct its abuses and should dedicate its staff to protecting the country from actual threats, like child exploitation, human trafficking and drug-related crimes, instead of attempting to induce fear in immigrant communities."

But for Haggman and Richardson, two well-funded candidates seeking to beat former University of Miami President Donna Shalala in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, talk about abolishing ICE provides a way to differentiate themselves from an opponent with better name recognition and a way to sway far left-leaning voters in the primary.

Read more here.

June 25, 2018

Nelson says top Trump official barred him from seeing immigrant children in Homestead

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

Bill Nelson was on his way to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children last Tuesday, attempting to gain access to the second-largest shelter in the country for children who crossed the border illegally by themselves or with their parents, when he called a top Trump administration official to get access. 

As he drove from Miami International Airport to South Dade, the Florida Democrat said he tried to call Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar but was instead referred to Deputy Secretary Eric Hargen.

Nelson said the number two official at the federal agency responsible for the Homestead facility told him it would take two weeks to schedule a tour.

"We had a rather heated conversation," Nelson said. "He said the policy of the department is that you fill out the forms, which I had done on Monday, and you have to wait two weeks. To which I replied 'Mr. Secretary, you and I both know that's bullhockey.'"

Nelson said the Trump administration's decision to deny his tour request was based on partisan politics as he fights for reelection against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of the president.

"It's pretty obvious that this was being directed from on high," Nelson said.

An HHS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Two days after Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to visit the Homestead facility, HHS officials sent an email to lawmakers allowing them to request a tour of Homestead and other facilities around the country at predetermined times due to a high demand for visits. Lawmakers were not allowed to photograph or record their visits, and they were not allowed to speak with the children.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and about 20 members of the press toured the facility on Friday while Nelson and Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Ted Deutch, Darren Soto and Wasserman Schultz toured the facility on Saturday. Scott has not toured the Homestead facility yet, though other state-level elected officials were told on Saturday they also had to wait two weeks to enter.

Nelson also said he was unable to meet with the woman in charge of reuniting the children at Homestead with their parents, because she wasn't working on Saturday. He plans to speak with Azar in Washington on Tuesday.