It seems that even Republicans in Florida have finally been forced to notice/admit what we've been pointing out about the 2016 election for years now. And our guest on today's BradCast, a longtime county elections chief from the Sunshine State, is none too happy about any of it. He offers several serious-as-a-heart-attack warnings about 2020 in the bargain. [Must-listen audio link to show is posted at end of article.]
But, first up today, the nation and world continue to pay a dangerous and painful price for whatever did or didn't happen that resulted in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The Administration continued to ratchet up their threats of war against Iran on Wednesday by ordering all nonessential U.S. Government staff out of Iraq, citing unspecified and publicly unsupported claims of threats from Iran. The face-off clearly comes from Trump's ill-considered decision to pull out of the 2015 Obama Administration-brokered, seven-nation nuclear agreement which had effectively ended Iran's nuclear program. Though even the Trump Administration conceded Iran has been faithful to the anti-nuclear pact, Trump withdrew the U.S. and re-imposed crippling sanctions. He's now threatening war, for reasons that nobody seems to understand, and has deployed war ships and bombers to the tinder-box region.
Back at home, Trump's stolen U.S. Supreme Court has inspired dozens of new anti-abortion laws in state after state. On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the most draconian measure yet, a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, while jailing doctors who perform the (currently) Constitutionally-protected procedure for up to 99 years. The new law, adopted on Tuesday by the male-dominated state Senate and signed less than 24 hours later, would not only force women to carry the child of their rapists, it could also penalize doctors more harshly than the rapists. The ACLU has vowed to challenge the law which would require even pregnant 11-year old rape victims to carry their baby to term.
In North Carolina on Tuesday, Republican primary voters selected their candidate to run against Democrat Dan McCready in the do-over election for the state's 9th U.S. House Congressional District after the Republican candidate and Baptist Minister Mark Harris was discovered to have hired a GOP contractor who carried out a massive Absentee Ballot Fraud Scheme last November. The 10-candidate GOP primary resulted in hard-right, Trump-loving state Senator Dan Bishop being selected to run against McCready in September's do-over election. Bishop is the author and lead sponsor of NC's infamous 2016 law restricting bathroom access for transgender people.
But, as the nation and world continue to pay the price for Trump's nightmarish Presidency, new questions emerge (or, at least, are finally being noticed by Republicans) regarding his own supposed 2016 election victory. On Tuesday, Florida's new Republican Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged the FBI notified him that election systems in at least two different Florida counties were infiltrated by by Russian intelligence in advance of the 2016 election. He says the FBI has barred him from publicly stating which two counties those are.
The news comes on the heels of similar (and similarly vague) allegations detailed in the redacted Special Counsel report [PDF] from Robert Mueller (see Volume II, page 50, "Intrusions Targeting the Administration of U.S. Elections"), as well as public claims in 2018 made by Florida's then Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson's assertions about Russian access to the state's elections systems were publicly ridiculed at the time by then Gov. Rick Scott and other GOPers, even though Florida's Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was told about the same information at the same time as Nelson in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Scott would go on to narrowly defeat Nelson for the Senate seat in 2018 and Republican DeSantis is said to have narrowly edged out Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on the same day. Both races were so close they resulted in unprecedented statewide "recounts".
However, as our guest today, 30-year veteran Leon County, FL Supervisor of Elections ION SANCHO explains, "recounts" in Florida amount to little more than running the same paper ballots through the same optical-scan computers which tallied them --- either correctly or incorrectly --- in the first place. Sancho, the legendary elections chief in Tallahassee, the state's capital, was so well-respected by all sides that he was tapped in 2000 to oversee FL's notoriously aborted Presidential recount that year. He is furious today about DeSantis' announcement, the secrecy behind which are the counties that were penetrated (he retired after the 2016 election), and explains that he was lied to by the FBI when he was told, during a then confidential conference call with Bureau officials in 2016, that "no county had been hacked" in the run-up to the election.
"The Justice Department has continued to obfuscate and lie about this situation from the very beginning. I was on a confidential call on September 30,  in which all 67 election officials here in this state, and the state election officials, were informed by the FBI that no county had been hacked. The state hadn't been hacked. They told us that. And we now know, from the documentation that's been released through The Intercept and Mueller, that was false. We now know from the documentation, some time in early August [of 2016], the successful penetration occurred."
Sancho also now questions whether there were more than two counties penetrated and says he has no reason to trust the claims by either DeSantis or federal officials that election results were unaffected by the attack. "Here's the crazy thing about it," he tells me, "the Russian GRU knows which counties they've penetrated. The only people that don't know are the election officials and the citizens and voters of the state...it's time the American citizenry, particularly Floridians, figured out that information."
He also hails NSA whistleblower Reality Winner as a "heroine" for alerting the world to documents revealing that the Russian GRU had penetrated elections systems in Florida (and possibly elsewhere) via coordinated spear-phishing attacks that allowed them access to voter registration and website election results reporting systems made by VR Systems, a private election systems vendor with contracts in dozens of U.S. states. Winner is currently serving 5 years in federal prison for having leaked those documents to The Intercept in 2017.
Sancho demands to know "why Homeland Security decided to keep critical information from state and local election officials" for so many years. "Why weren't we told?" He also furious at Rubio and other Republicans for their treatment of Nelson when he tried to blow the whistle himself last year. "Nelson was vilified as being old and senile for saying such a ridiculous thing. And actually he was right...And quite frankly, the individual whose stock falls in my eyes is Senator Rubio, who confirmed what Sen. Nelson said, only after the election. He could have told the truth, and said that Sen. Nelson is raising a valid point. He kept his mouth shut. He put his party over this nation, and we are poorer for it today."
As to the security of the state's election systems as we head into 2020, he warns that "Florida is not well protected," adding a chilling note: "You do a reconnaissance before a major attack," he tells me, "and I don't think we've had the major attack yet."
Sancho has plenty more to say regarding Florida's move to unverifiable computer-marked paper ballots in advance of the upcoming Presidential election, and much more that I hope you'll click below to tune in for. There's simply too much to fully summarize here.
But one last point for now. Sancho also offers his thoughts today on the recent measure passed by GOP state lawmakers to undermine Florida's Constitutional Amendment 4 which was adopted by nearly 65% of statewide voters last November, allowing some 1.5 million former felons in Florida who have completed their prison sentences as well as all parole and probation, to have their voting rights restored. The new GOP measure, which awaits DeSantis' signature, would bar those newly-eligible voters --- including more than 20% of the states African-American voting-age population --- from registering to vote unless all court-imposed fines and fees are paid.
"What the Republicans did was reprehensible," Sancho rails, arguing that the bill contradicts "the overwhelming, clear language" of the statewide constitutional ballot measure. Many have described the new GOP bill as a poll tax. Sancho calls it more "cash register justice", as it will allow those with money to vote, but not those without. "This is clearly restricting the right to vote based upon who can afford to pay. Jim Crow has been reestablished in Florida."
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)