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Tulsi Gabbard explains decision to sue Hillary Clinton: 'They can do it to anybody'

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHarris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film MORE (D-Hawaii) said Thursday that she filed a defamation lawsuit against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Trump fights for battleground Arizona Biden leads Trump by 12 in new national poll MORE because the former secretary of State tried to "destroy" her reputation by suggesting that she is a "Russian asset."

"If Hillary Clinton and her allies can successfully destroy my reputation — even though I’m a war veteran and a sitting member of Congress — then they can do it to anybody," Gabbard, a 2020 presidential candidate, said in a statement. "I will not allow this blatant effort to intimidate me and other patriotic Americans into silence go unchallenged."

In the defamation lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gabbard alleged that Clinton's remarks “smeared” her “political and personal reputation.” Lawyers for Gabbard also alleged that Clinton's characterizations of Gabbard served as "retribution" for the congresswoman's decision to endorse Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' What a Biden administration should look like Ocasio-Cortez: 'Trump is the racist visionary, but McConnell gets the job done' MORE (I-Vt.) during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. 

Gabbard is claiming to have suffered damages that exceed more than $50 million.

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

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Gabbard's allegations zero in on comments Clinton made while appearing on a podcast hosted by former President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, in October. As she discussed the upcoming 2020 election, Clinton suggested that Republicans were "grooming" a Democratic presidential candidate for a third-party bid. 

She also claimed that the candidate had become a favorite of the Russians. 

"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," Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said, referencing the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate.

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"Yeah, she's a Russian asset, I mean totally. They know they can't win without a third-party candidate," Clinton added. She did not mention Gabbard's name, though it was widely interpreted to be a reference to the lawmaker. 

Gabbard's lawyers in November described Clinton's comments as "defamatory" and demanded that she retract them. In the lawsuit, they argue that Clinton is a "cutthroat politician" and that her "false assertions were made in a deliberate attempt to derail Tulsi’s presidential campaign." 

"Despite my lifetime of service to our country, Hillary Clinton has essentially tried to portray me as a traitor to our country," Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, added in her statement. 

Gabbard's 2020 presidential campaign has failed to garner significant support, and she was left out of the last two Democratic primary debates. She has faced scrutiny over some of her foreign policy views, with some taking issue with her reluctance to criticize Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is suspected of committing war crimes. Gabbard met with Assad in 2017 as part of a trip to Syria. 

She has denied having interest in mounting a third-party White House bid.