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, including meeting with him and openly questioning U.S. intelligence conclusions that Assad carried out chemical weapons attacks on his own people.
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.
The Hawaii congresswoman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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.
Gabbard has also said she would support the eventual Democratic nominee, and ruled out a third party bid.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am ruling out a third-party run,” Gabbard told reporters in August.
Jack Turman contributed to this report.