MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Mueller report says President Donald Trump’s efforts to influence the Russia investigation “were mostly unsuccessful,” but an attempt by Russian hackers to gain access to at least one Florida county’s election computer network during the 2016 campaign was successful.
The report does not specify which county.
The redacted report released on Thursday says the GRU, or Russian military intelligence agency, targeted Florida officials with spear phishing emails.
The report reads, “In August 2016, GRU officers targeted employees of (redacted), a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network. Similarly, in November 2016, the GRU sent spear phishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election. The spear phishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer. The FBI was separately responsible for this investigation. We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government. The Office did not independently verify that belief and, as explained above, did not undertake the investigative steps that would have been necessary to do so.”
In August of 2018, former Sen. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson said Russians have “penetrated” some of his state’s voter registration systems ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,” he said before a campaign event in Tampa.
He added, “We were requested by the chairman and vice chairman of the intelligence committee to let the supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.”
When he was asked to elaborate, he simply said, “That’s classified,”
The Florida Department of State, at the time, pushed back on the claims by Nelson that Russian operatives have “penetrated” Florida voting systems.
While Russian hacking attempts were previously reported, the spear phishing effort’s apparent success in at least one Florida county was newly revealed on Thursday.
Nelson’s Republican opponent, Sen. Rick Scott, repeatedly criticized Nelson for being careless with classified information. Scott’s office said Thursday that the FBI should share additional information related to their investigation referenced in the Mueller report, according to the Miami Herald.
“The FBI needs to provide any and all available information in relation to what is in the report to state elections professionals in Florida and Congress in order to ensure free and fair elections across the nation,” Scott spokesperson Chris Hartline said. “Bill Nelson made claims about Russian interference without providing any evidence. Senator Scott called on then-Senator Nelson to provide evidence, which he refused to do. The Florida Department of State had no information to corroborate Nelson’s claims and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security did not provide any information to support the claim.”
CBSMiami is reaching out to former Senator Nelson for a comment.
In a statement released Thursday, the Florida Department of State said it “has no knowledge or evidence of any successful hacking attempt at the county level during the 2016 elections. Upon learning of the new information released in the Mueller report, the Department immediately reached out to the FBI to inquire which county may have been accessed, and they declined to share this information with us,” spokesperson Sarah Revell said in an email to CBSMiami.com. “The Department maintains that the 2016 elections in Florida were not hacked. The Florida Voter Registration System was and remains secure, and official results or vote tallies were not changed. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified the Department that Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers in 2016. Since 2016 when elections were designated as critical infrastructure, state and local election officials in Florida have invested millions of dollars in election security. These investments, coupled with our strong partnerships with federal and state agencies, has made Florida one of the leading states in the country on election cybersecurity. In 2018, former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a letter to the Florida Secretary of State that ‘…we have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida.’ The Department of State and local election officials will continue our efforts to ensure Florida’s elections in 2020 and beyond are secure.”
Another Florida connection in the Mueller report is in connection with Guccifer 2.0.
The report states Russian military intelligence using the “Guccifer 2.0” pseudonym released hundreds of internal documents stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In August 2016, according to the report, Guccifer 2.0 “transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of Florida-related data stolen from the DCCC to a U.S. blogger covering Florida politics.”
The release of documents, which included opposition research performed by the DNC (including a memorandum analyzing potential criticisms of candidate Trump) , internal policy documents (such as recommendations on how to address politically sensitive issues), analyses of specific congressional races, and fundraising documents, were organized around thematic issues, such as specific states (e.g., Florida and Pennsylvania) that were perceived as competitive in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
HENRY OKNYANSKY (A/K/A HENRY GREENBERG) AND ROGER STONE
“In the spring of 2016, Trump Campaign advisor Michael Caputo learned through a Florida-based Russian business partner that another Florida-based Russian, Henry Oknyansky (who also went by the name Henry Greenberg), claimed to have information pertaining to Hillary Clinton.” That’s according to the report which goes on to say Caputo arranged a meeting between informal Trump advisor Roger Stone and Greenberg/Oknyansky in May 2016.
Greenberg/Oknyansky claimed to have information on Clinton. Stone met with Greenberg/Okyansky, who was accompanied by Alexei Rasin. Rasin, a Ukrainian man who was “involved in Florida real estate,” offered to sell Stone “deragotory information” that he claimed to have obtained while working for Clinton.
“Rasin claimed to possess financial statements demonstrating Clinton’s involvement in money laundering” with his businesses, according to the report. According to Oknyansky, Stone asked if the amounts in question totaled millions of dollars but was told it was closer to hundreds of thousands. Stone refused the offer, stating that Trump would not pay for opposition research.
Oknyansky claimed to the Office that Rasin’s motivation was financial. According to Oknyansky, Rasin had tried unsuccessfully to shop the Clinton information around to other interested parties, and Oknyansky would receive a cut if the information was sold.
The special counsel found “no evidence that Rasin worked for Clinton or any Clinton-related entities.”
The report also notes Okynasky and Caputo had different accounts of the meeting, with Oykansky alleging that Caputo accompanied Stone and introduced the parties, “whereas Caputo did not tell us that he attended” and claimed he did not know about the information was offered.
SENSITIVE MAR-A-LAGO CONVERSATIONS
There are other Florida references in the Mueller report including sensitive conversations that took place at President Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago Resort regarding Russian efforts to hack Florida elections.
According to the report, candidate Trump hired Paul Manafort to run the presidential campaign during a March 2016 meeting at Mar-a-Lago.
The investigation found Trump associates, transition team members, and senior advisers had sensitive conversations pertaining to Russia and the Russia investigation at the Palm Beach club.
In December 2016, Russia “initiated” outreach to the president-elect’s transition team, while Trump and senior officials of the transition team, including Steve Bannon, K.T. McFarland and Reince Preibus, were staying at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.
Those team members discussed concerns about Russia’s reaction to U.S. sanctions while at Mar-a-Lago and talked about what then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn should say to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The report notes multiple transition team members “were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day.” Flynn also texted a transition team member who was assisting McFarland while at Mar-a-Lago, writing “Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today” according to the report.
The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement that Russia “would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions” at the time.
JEFF SESSIONS AND THE PRESIDENT
The Mueller report also states in March 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet with President Trump.
“Sessions recalled that the President pulled him aside to speak with him alone and suggested that Sessions should ‘un-recuse’ himself from the Russia investigation”.
Sessions announced his recusal from the investigation on Mar. 2, 2017.
“Sessions said he had the impression that the President feared that the investigation could spin out of control and disrupt his ability to govern, which Sessions could have helped avert” if he were still involved in the Russia investigation, according to the report.
INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY ORGANIZED PRO-TRUMP RALLIES IN FLORIDA
Over the last few months of the 2016 Presidential election, the Internet Research Agency organized several political rallies throughout the United States, “often promoting the Trump campaign and opposing the Clinton campaign.”
The Internet Research Agency, or IRA, is a company based in St. Petersburg, Russia, that engages in online influence operations mainly operates as a Kremlin-backed organization.
The report says that between June 2016 and the election, the IRA organized several pro-Trump rallies, including “a series of pro-Trump rallies in Florida in August 2016.”
The Trump campaign, as well as surrogates and supporters. also promoted IRA political content, including a tweet aimed at south Florida, according to the report.
On Nov. 2, 2016, the Twitter account belonging to Donald Trump Jr. re-tweeted a post from an IRA-controlled account that alleged “tens of thousand of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reporter in Broward County, Florida.”
RUSSIA TARGETS CLINTON EMAILS HOURS AFTER TRUMP NEWS CONFERENCE IN FLORIDA
Hours after then-candidate Trump discussed his opponent’s missing email in a press conference, Russia began targeting Clinton associated email accounts for potential exploits.
At a news conference in Doral on Jul. 27, 2016, Trump remarked, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The special counsel’s report says that within five hours of the press conference, Russian intelligence “began targeting email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton for possible hacks.”
In a written response to the report, President Trump said that the “Russia, if you’re listening” comment was made “in jest and sarcastically.”