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Monday, October 21, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard Conspiracy Theories Go Mainstream as Hillary Clinton Accuses the Candidate of Being Groomed by Russia

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown - October 21, 2019 at 09:30AM

Clinton suggests Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein are "Russian assets." Since announcing her 2020 presidential bid, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) has been plagued by bizarre conspiracy theories, including rumors that she's in league with Russia and that she plans a third-party run. Now Hillary Clinton has joined the theorists levying the allegations. In a recent podcast, the Democrats' 2016 nominee warned that Russia was "grooming" Gabbard "to be the third-party candidate."

As a woman with anti-war beliefs, sometimes idiosyncratic policy positions, and an apparent allergy to parroting all of her party's preferred talking points, Gabbard has rankled a lot of establishment Democrats and picked up fans from several factions, including several conservatives.

That last part has further fueled rumors that Gabbard's run as a Democrat is just a prelude to an independent or third-party presidential campaign next year. Some figures have been fuming about that (very slim) possibility, just as they've fumed over the possibility that Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) might do the same. Just as they fume anytime anyone dares challenge the idea that U.S. politics should mean a challenge between one Republican and one Democrat.

The more wacko speculation surrounding Gabbard is that she's linked to Russia. As in the 2016 election, there's a lot of careless conflation between the idea that she's a Russian plant and the idea that some people in Moscow would like her to do well.

Hillary Clinton combined both theories into one (while also roping in Jill Stein for good measure) on a podcast with David Plouffe. Clinton told Plouffe that she thinks a woman currently running in the Democratic presidential primary is being groomed by Russia to run as a third-party candidate:

I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is 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…

Lest there be any doubt who she meant, a Clinton spokesperson subsequently confirmed that Clinton was talking about Tulsi Gabbard. ("Clinton spox @NickMerrill, when asked if HRC was referring to Gabbard: 'If the nesting doll fits,'" tweeted CNN's Dan Merica.)

Gabbard responded with a tweet thread accusing Clinton and her allies of running a "concerted campaign" to tarnish Gabbard's reputation. After calling Clinton "the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long," Gabbard thanked Clinton for having "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. It's now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don't cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.

The New York Post editorial board notes that Clinton's comments follow "last week's New York Times story hinting at the same conspiracy theory, which cited at least two former Clinton aides and which Gabbard slammed onstage at last week's debate."

During the Plouffe podcast, Clinton also accused 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein of being a "Russian asset." After talking about Russia's alleged new favorite, Clinton added:

and that's assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which, she might not 'cause she's also a Russian asset. She's a Russian asset, totally. They know they can't win without a third-party candidate.

Yikes.

Clinton is not the only prominent politician to insinuate that something is amiss with Gabbard. In July, after Gabbard slammed Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) for her record as a prosecutor, Harris' communications manager tweeted out the following, with a link to an NBC story titled "Russia's propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard":

Reporters writing their stories with eyes on the modern-day assignment desk of Twitter, read this: "The Russian propaganda machine that tried to influence the 2016 election is now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat"

Evan McMullin, who briefly ran as an independent candidate in 2016, tweeted on Friday:

I believe it's true. Tulsi Gabbard is with the Russians and the Russians are with Tulsi Gabbard. She confirms it every time she opens her mouth.

On Sunday, Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden said she didn't understand "why major media outlets aren't more concerned about Russian bot support of Tulsi than Hillary's statement."

Asked by NBC about the idea that Russian bots were backing her campaign, Gabbard said "I don't control them. I don't control what anyone else says or does."


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