President Trump on Monday stepped gleefully into a name-calling dispute between Hillary Clinton and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard over Clinton’s insinuation that Gabbard was fronting for the Russians in her long-shot presidential campaign.
“Hillary Clinton, if you’ve heard of her, she’s the one that’s accusing everybody of being a Russian agent,” said Trump during a Monday Cabinet meeting at the White House. “Anybody that is opposed to her is a Russian agent, so that’s a scam that was pretty much put down. Tulsi, I don’t know Tulsi but she’s not a Russian agent.”
In an interview on the podcast of former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe published last week, Clinton expressed her concerns about possible Russian interference in the 2020 election.
“They’re also going to do third-party again,” Clinton said. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”
While Clinton didn’t mention Gabbard by name, no other female candidates currently running in the primary — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and spiritualist author Marianne Williamson — have been accused of having ties to Russia. Gabbard has been criticized for some of her foreign policy stances, including visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Few things rile up Trump as much as the question of Russian interference in American elections, which he treats as impugning his victory in 2016. While Trump has insisted that Russia had nothing to do with the 2016 election, siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, both special counsel Robert Mueller and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee found that Russia directly interfered in an attempt to aid Trump.
Trump also defended Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate who Clinton also said was “a Russian asset.”
Stein, whose vote totals in key Midwestern swing states were larger than Trump’s margin over Clinton, has been blamed by Democrats as a reason for her loss to Trump. Stein was a guest at a 2015 dinner in Moscow honoring the Russian propaganda outlet RT, which Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, also attended, both seated at the head table with Putin.
“I don’t know Jill Stein,” said Trump. “I know she likes environment. I don’t think she likes Russians. If she does like them I know she’s not an asset. [Clinton] called her an asset of Russia. These people are sick. There’s something wrong with that.”
Trump added that if Clinton “would have done this earlier, people would have realized what a scam it is. Everybody’s a Russian, a Russian agent or a Russian asset.”
After Clinton’s comments, Gabbard pushed back.
“Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton,” said Gabbard in a series of tweets. “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.”
Trump had previously supported Gabbard in a tweet over the weekend, writing, “So now Crooked Hillary is at it again! She is calling Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard ‘a Russian favorite,’ and Jill Stein ‘a Russian asset.’ As you may have heard, I was called a big Russia lover also (actually, I do like Russian people. I like all people!). Hillary’s gone Crazy!”
About Clinton’s charge, “If the nesting doll fits,” Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill told CNN on Friday. “This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality. If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations, is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality, it is not speculation.”
Trump, having fueled the dispute, lamented that the opposition party is so unified compared to his own. “They’re vicious and they stick together,” he said of the Democrats. “They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst.”
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