Hillary Clinton suggested that Russians are “grooming” a 2020 Democratic candidate, implicitly referencing Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard without directly naming her. Gabbard has often been criticized for her seeming support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, which has included meeting with him and openly questioning U.S. intelligence conclusions that Assad carried out chemical weapons attacks on his own people.

In an interview with CBSN from Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday night, Gabbard insisted Clinton’s comments were the result of Gabbard’s anti-war message.

“This is a message to every veteran in this country who has put their life on the line to serve our country, to every single American who believes strongly that we must end this long-standing foreign policy of being the world’s police and ending these regime-change wars, which is really the legacy of Hillary Clinton, then we are traitors to the nation that we love,” said Gabbard, who is a veteran.

Clinton spoke with David Plouffe, the campaign manager for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, for his podcast Campaign HQ. She discussed Russian interference in the 2016 election and likely intrusion into the 2020 election.

“They’re also going to do third party again. And I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary. And they’re grooming her to be the third party candidate,” Clinton said presumably about Gabbard, referring to Russian efforts to support third party candidate Jill Stein in 2016.

“She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and – that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, because she is also a Russian asset — yeah, she’s a Russian asset! I mean totally!” Clinton continued. Clinton supporters have alleged that Stein served as a spoiler in the 2016 election.

“They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. And so, I don’t know who it’s gonna be, but I can guarantee they’ll have a vigorous third party challenge in the key states that they most need it,” Clinton said about the Russians.

Gabbard insisted to CBSN she would not be running as a third-party candidate.

“I’ve been very clear, I will not be leaving the Democratic party, I will not be running as an independent or a third-party candidate,” Gabbard said. “I am running as a Democrat to take our party back, away from the control of people like Hillary Clinton and the warmongering and corrupt, powerful establishment and return our party into the hands of the people. Make it so the Democratic party is once again a party of, by and for the people, a party that will fight for the people, fight to protect the planet and that will fight for peace.”

By Friday night, Gabbard had sent around fundraising emails about Clinton’s comments.

Gabbard wrote on Twitter earlier Friday that Clinton was “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.”

“Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a … concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and … powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly,” Gabbard wrote in three tweets.

Gabbard has pushed back against accusations that she supports Assad. Although she met with Assad in 2017, and she has said in the past that Assad is “not the enemy of the United States,” she called him a “brutal dictator” on CNN in August.

However, during the Democratic debate on Tuesday, Gabbard repeatedly referred to a “regime change war” in Syria, which is a common talking point for Assad. She accused members of the media of “championing and cheerleading this regime change war.”

“The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears,” Gabbard said. The Times article she referenced noted that Gabbard is a popular figure on Russian state media, but did not suggest she was a Russian asset.

Gabbard also criticized CNN during the debate, in tones that would imply that she would greatly disagree with Clinton’s assessment of her campaign.

“This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable,” Gabbard said.

Jack Turman and Caroline Linton contributed to this report.

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