By Paula Dockery
The FBI recently met with Gov. Ron DeSantis and then with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott to brief them on the election office breaches mentioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. They purportedly were told which two Florida counties were successfully targeted and then instructed not to share the classified information.
The 27-member Florida congressional delegation also met with the FBI to demand answers but did not get many. The two U.S. senators at the time of the hacking — Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio — had already been briefed.
In fact, in August 2018, just before early voting started, Nelson, troubled by the knowledge of Russian hacking in Florida’s election system, publicly warned Floridians that it happened. His challenger, then-Gov. Scott, adamantly denied it and accused Nelson of making it up and insisting he provide proof. Scott even accused Nelson of being mentally unstable and produced a lengthy campaign video mocking Nelson for his hacking comments.
The news media piled on to the Scott narrative and demanded proof. Eight months later we learn that Nelson’s comments were not only accurate but that the FBI and Rubio knew them to be true but did not back up Nelson’s claim.
In a race so close that a recount was required, Scott eked out a win by two-tenths of a percentage point. With more than eight million ballots counted, Scott won by 10,033 votes. Did Scott’s offensive, the news media pouncing and the silence by the FBI and Rubio make a difference in the razor-thin loss for Nelson?
Nelson is owed an apology from those who dismissed his concern for the integrity of our elections — even after the Russians had attacked our previous election two years earlier. Rubio made excuses for why he allowed Scott’s false narrative to stand. Scott, to no one’s surprise, has no intention of apologizing or admitting he was wrong.
With the FBI keeping details secret as a matter of “national security,” we have very few answers and a lot of questions. Did the Russian actions affect the outcome? Did they change, delete, or disqualify votes or modify vote tallies? Did they mess with voter registration data? Did they create havoc and suspicion around the election to build a case for a challenge if their preferred candidates came up a little short?
This has shades of the same tactics used in 2016. Knowing what we now know, it makes the activities surrounding the 2018 election recount a little more questionable.
Why was U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who represents northern counties in the Florida Panhandle, in Broward County hundreds of miles from his district? Why was he organizing a protest with dirty trickster and recently indicted Roger Stone? Why was Gaetz up on the bed of a rented truck with a bullhorn making incendiary accusations and coordinating a message with other far-right conspiracy theorists?
Then-Gov. Scott and Gaetz created the impression that 80,000 ballots were fraudulently found after Election Day. Gaetz went so far as to provide visuals with the rental truck supposedly filled with reams of paper. He also produced a shaky video that he claimed showed people loading stuff in and out of the Broward Elections office. Gaetz called for Florida’s secretary of state to put the Broward County Elections office into receivership — enlisting Donald Trump’s famous phrase — “until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Scott and Gaetz — joined by Rubio — accused Democrats of trying to “steal the election.”
Scott went on the offensive, too. He appeared on Fox News and accused Nelson of committing fraud, but even the Fox host questioned that assertion. Scott wanted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, but it declined. Scott tried to impound the voting equipment, but a judge denied Scott’s request. Scott refused to recuse himself from the recount process even though he was a candidate involved in the recount.
Scott removed Snipes from office, even though she had announced her resignation effective Jan. 4, and installed his go-to guy, Peter Antonacci, who had zero experience. Why?
Why the coordinated effort to attack the election and Snipes and the Broward office in particular? Who paid for and organized the Gaetz/Stone “Broward County Election Theft Demonstration”?
Was this a normal handling of an election recount or was something more nefarious going on here?
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA. PBDockery@gmail.com.