Clinton suggests Russia grooming Gabbard to run as third-party 2020 candidate

BY MAX GREENWOOD - 10/18/19 12:30 PM EDT 2,244

Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the “favorite of the Russians” to win the 2020 presidential election and is being groomed by Moscow to run as a third-party candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee.

In an interview on the podcast “Campaign HQ,”
the former secretary of State warned that the Russian government was poised to once again meddle in the U.S. presidential election through online disinformation efforts and by encouraging a third-party challenger to stir chaos in the contest.

The Russians already have their “eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” she said, in an apparent reference to Gabbard.

“She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her, so far,” Clinton told David Plouffe, the podcast’s host and the campaign manager for former President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” Clinton added, referring to the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate.

Clinton did not mention Gabbard by name. But her comments were a clear swipe at the Hawaii congresswoman, who has repeatedly been accused by political rivals and critics of being a potential Russian asset. Gabbard has denied those allegations.

During a Democratic presidential debate this week, Gabbard criticized news outlets — The New York Times and CNN, in particular — for accusing her of being “a Russian asset and an Assad apologist,” calling the allegations “completely despicable.”

A spokesperson for Gabbard’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about Clinton’s remarks. The Hawaii congresswoman has already said that she will not mount an independent bid for president if she does not win the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Gabbard has become a target for criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for her foreign policy views. In particular, she has drawn scrutiny for her views on American military involvement in Syria and arguing that the U.S. has waged so-called regime-change wars in the Middle East.

She has been reluctant to criticize Syrian President Bashar Assad, even in the face of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity, and met with him secretly during a trip to Syria in 2017.

More recently, some Democrats have expressed concerns about what they say is online bot activity supportive of Gabbard’s presidential campaign. After the first Democratic debate in June, for instance, the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDestroyed trended among Gabbard’s supporters on Twitter, leading to speculation that it had been amplified by bots on the website.

Twitter has said it did not uncover any significant bot activity around the hashtag and there is no evidence that the campaign was involved with spreading the hashtag.