Lawyers for presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) are accusing Hillary Clinton of defamation for her assertion that “somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary” is being groomed “to be the third-party candidate” and is “the favorite of the Russians.”
Gabbard’s lawyers, in a letter obtained by Politico’s Daniel Strauss, demanded that Clinton immediately retract comments she made last month to a podcast, calling the statements false and praising Gabbard as “a patriotic loyal American.”
Clinton, on the Campaign HQ podcast, didn’t name the 2020 candidate. She made her controversial comment when discussing the possibility of a third-party candidate with host David Plouffe, who managed President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate,” Clinton said, apparently referring generally to President Donald Trump’s reelection effort. “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, ’cause she’s also a Russian asset.”
The comments were widely interpreted as a reference to Gabbard, who defended herself during last month’s Democratic debate after a news report noted she is often a topic of Russia’s state-run media.
Clinton’s spokesperson, Nick Merrill, asked later if Clinton meant to target Gabbard, answered: “If the nesting doll fits.” He later tweeted that Clinton had been referring to the GOP, not Russia, in her podcast comments.
Gabbard’s lawyers say that the statements are false and defamatory, and that Merrill’s claim that Clinton had been referring to Republicans “makes no sense.”
“This Republicans-not-Russians spin developed only after you realized the defamatory nature of your statement, and therefore your legal liability, as well as the full extent of the public backlash against your statement,” Gabbard’s lawyers wrote.
Gabbard’s attorneys demanded that Clinton hold a press conference announcing a retraction, and issue statements on Twitter and to major news outlets.
Clinton didn’t immediately respond.