Buttigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses
Clinton suggests Gabbard is 'favorite' candidate of Russians
Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the "favorite of the Russians" to win the 2020 presidential election.
Clinton also said "they" are grooming Gabbard to run as a third- -party candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee, though she did not refer to the Hawaiian lawmaker by name.
It wasn't clear who Clinton meant by "they" in an interview on the podcast "Campaign HQ," but a Clinton spokesman on Twitter later said that the 2016 Democratic nominee had been referring to Republicans with the grooming comment.
In the podcast, 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.
She said Republicans were also ready to encourage a third-party candidate, saying they already have their "eye on somebody who's currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate," 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.
While Clinton did not mention Gabbard by name, 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 respond to a request for comment on Friday about Clinton's remarks, but the congresswoman later tweeted a blistering response, accusing Clinton of being the "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long."
The Hawaii Democrat has already said that she will not mount an independent bid for president if she does not win the party's 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.
This story was updated on Oct. 24 to reflect that Clinton was referring to Republicans when she made the "grooming" remark.