Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came to the defense of fellow 2020 presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on Monday after Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest Gabbard was getting a campaign boost from Russia.
Sanders called the former Democratic presidential nominee’s suggestion “outrageous” and pointed to Gabbard’s military record, which includes time in an Iraqi combat zone.
The controversy began when Clinton discussed the third-party vote and Republicans’ 2020 campaign strategy in the “Campaign HQ” podcast last week. “I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary,” she said, “and they’re grooming her to be the third-party candidate.”
Clinton did not name Gabbard, but her remarks were widely interpreted to be about the Hawaii representative, based on past media reports describing Gabbard as a frequent topic of Russian state news media.
“She’s the favorite of the Russians,” Clinton said on the podcast, without naming the person she was referring to. “They have a bunch of sites and bots and ways of supporting her so far.”
There has been a flurry of social media accounts supporting Gabbard that appear to be bots, though there’s no evidence they’re part of a coordinated effort by the Russians.
Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill later said that Clinton was suggesting that the Republicans, not the Russians, were grooming someone to be a third-party candidate.
Though she wasn’t named explicitly, Gabbard fired back in a string of tweets, slamming Clinton as the “queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.”
Sanders and Gabbard are rivals in this election, but Gabbard endorsed Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary against Clinton. To do so, she had to step down from her post as a Democratic National Committee vice chair.
President Donald Trump, who has continually rejected intelligence officials’ findings that Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, also denied that Gabbard was a Russian agent on Monday.