Gabbard suing Clinton for defamation over 'Russian asset' comments

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardButtigieg notes diversity on debate stage: We're '7 white people talking about racial justice' Sanders grows lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Financial trade tax gains traction with 2020 Democrats MORE (D-Hawaii) is suing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 The Hill's Campaign Report: High stakes at last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday MORE for defamation over the former secretary of State's remarks on a podcast characterizing the Democratic presidential candidate as a Russian asset.

Gabbard filed the defamation lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

Gabbard’s lawyers allege that Clinton’s comments have “smeared” Gabbard’s “political and personal reputation.” 

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“Tulsi Gabbard is a loyal American civil servant who has also dedicated her life to protecting the safety of all Americans,” Gabbard’s lawyer Brian Dunne said in a statement.

“Rep. Gabbard’s presidential campaign continues to gain momentum, but she has seen her political and personal reputation smeared and her candidacy intentionally damaged by Clinton’s malicious and demonstrably false remarks.”

Gabbard’s campaign referred all questions on the lawsuit to Dunne. 

In response to the lawsuit, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said "that's ridiculous." 

In a podcast released in October, Clinton said she thought Republicans were "grooming" a Democratic presidential candidate for a third-party bid. She also described the candidate as a favorite of the Russians.

Clinton did not name the candidate, but it was clear she was speaking about Gabbard.

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"They're also going to do third-party. I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on somebody who's currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate," Clinton said.

"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, because she's also a Russian asset. Yeah, she's a Russian asset, I mean totally. They know they can't win without a third-party candidate," Clinton said.

Stein was the Green Party candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Stein said the idea she is a Russian asset is an "unhinged conspiracy theory" in an October op-ed for The Guardian.

The lawsuit claims that Clinton is a “cutthroat politician” and “sought retribution” for Gabbard endorsing Clinton’s 2016 Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.). Gabbard is now facing Sanders in the crowded 2020 Democratic primary. 

“Clinton’s false assertions were made in a deliberate attempt to derail Tulsi’s presidential campaign,” it says. 

Gabbard’s lawyers claim Clinton’s “peddling of this theory” has harmed Gabbard, voters and “American democracy.” 

“Tulsi brings this lawsuit to ensure that the truth prevails and to ensure this country’s political elites are held accountable for intentionally trying to distort the truth in the midst of a critical Presidential election,” the lawsuit says. 

Gabbard is a long-shot candidate for the party nomination. 

She’s become a target for criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for her policy views, drawing scrutiny over American military involvement in Syria and over her reluctance to criticize Syrian President Bashar Assad even in the face of suspected war crimes. She met with Assad during a trip to Syria in 2017.

Updated: 10:37 a.m.