US intelligence won't brief Florida delegation on 'spoofed' emails tied to Iran

©Miami Herald

YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The office of Director of National Intelligence on Monday turned down the Florida congressional delegation’s request to be briefed on the claim that foreign governments have targeted voters to sow disinformation in the upcoming election, including through hundreds of emails sent to Florida voters last week.

Florida U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, a Central Florida Democrat, and Michael Waltz, a Republican from Northeast Florida, had asked for an FBI briefing for the delegation by Oct. 30 to find out more about the “nature and extend of Iranian and Russian efforts to undermine the 2020 election in our state.”

They made the request Thursday, a day after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a press conference that Iran obtained voter data and used the information to send spoofed emails that were “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”

The emails came from an address that referred to the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports Trump. The head of the group, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio Jr., told the Miami Herald last week that the group was not involved.

Murphy’s office confirmed to the Miami Herald Monday that the DNI had turned down the delegation’s request due to a “lack of bandwidth prior to the election.” Waltz’s office also confirmed the request for a briefing prior to Election Day was denied, but that Waltz remains hopeful it will happen after the Nov. 3 election.

The U.S. government’s claim that Iran and possibly Russia were behind the emails was made without specific evidence at the hastily called news conference on Oct. 21.

“The best antidote to misinformation is accurate information,” Murphy said in a prepared statement Monday. “Federal officials should provide the voting public — and their elected representatives in Congress — with as much information as possible regarding the efforts of foreign adversaries to interfere in our democracy, so voters can take steps to safeguard their voter information and hold local election officials accountable for any failure to protect that information.”

In Florida, hundreds of the emails were received by voters in at least six counties on Tuesday morning. The sender, purporting to be affiliated with the Proud Boys, claimed to have the voters’ personal information, ordering them to vote for President Donald Trump or “we will come after you.” By Wednesday night, the U.S. government had concluded Iran was behind the effort — a swift turnaround that raised suspicion among some Democrats.

Democrats said Ratcliffe’s claim during the press conference that the emails were sent to hurt Trump should not be trusted.

The House Homeland Security Committee — which is run by Democrats — said Wednesday on Twitter that, “These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” and then added that Ratcliffe has “politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the president.”

At the news conference last week, Ratcliffe also said that Iran was behind a video that “implies individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.”

Florida Department of State spokesman Mark Ard on Monday said the state is “aware of the video and it has been reported to law enforcement.” Ard did not respond when asked when it became aware of the video or if Florida voters had received it.

Elections officials in at least one Florida county told the Herald they became aware of the video last week.

Trish Robertson, a spokeswoman for the Collier Supervisor of Elections office, saw a video that may be the one Ratcliffe mentioned. She said voters in the county did not report it, and that she was shown the video by a coworker.

The claim that Iran was behind the threatening emails was an issue that came up in the last presidential debate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that “any country that interfered with American election will pay a price.”

Trump took a different approach. He used the question to repeat his opinion that Russia and Iran want him to lose the election, even though the U.S intelligence community concluded that Russia wanted to help Trump win the 2016 election.

“I knew all about that through John — (Director of National Intelligence) John Ratcliffe, who is fantastic — he said the one thing that’s common to both of them is that they want you to lose because there’s been nobody tougher on Russia,” Trump said.


©2020 Miami Herald