It's Hillary Clinton vs. Tulsi Gabbard on the sidelines of the 2020 presidential race.
The Hawaii congresswoman fought back unsparingly after Clinton appeared to call her "the favorite of the Russians" in a recent interview and said she believes the Russians have "got their eye on somebody who's currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate." Clinton, the former senator, U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, did not name Gabbard directly.
In a series of tweets Friday, Gabbard called Clinton the "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long." Gabbard also alleged there has been a "concerted campaign" to destroy her reputation since she announced her presidential run in January.
"It's now clear that this primary is between you and me," Gabbard tweeted about Clinton. "Don't cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly."
There is lingering trepidation in the Democratic Party of a repeat of the 2016 presidential race, when Russia interfered in the U.S. election in an effort to help Donald Trump defeat Clinton. U.S intelligence agencies have warned that Russia intends to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has mocked that possibility, joking earlier this month that Moscow would "definitely intervene" again.
During a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, Gabbard criticized a TV commentator who she said had called her "an asset of Russia." She called the comments "completely despicable."
Without naming Gabbard, Clinton seemed to echo the commentator's remark during a podcast appearance this week on "Campaign HQ with David Plouffe." Plouffe was campaign manager for President Barack Obama in 2008 and served as a senior adviser to the president.
"She's the favorite of the Russians," Clinton said, referring to the person she had earlier identified as a woman "who's currently in the Democratic primary." ''They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far."
Clinton also called Trump "Vladimir Putin's dream" in the interview. She went on to say that Trump's inauguration speech was "like a declaration of war on half of America." Clinton also describes 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein as "a Russian asset."
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The Russians know they can't win without a third-party candidate, Clinton added.
Gabbard said later Friday on CBSN that she "will not be leaving the Democratic Party. I will not be running as an independent or a third-party candidate."
Stein, who ran against Trump and Clinton as a Green Party candidate, received about 1% of the vote in the 2016 election, but some Democrats said her candidacy syphoned votes away from Clinton and helped Trump win, particularly in states like Wisconsin. The Senate Intelligence Committee asked Stein for documents as part of its probe into Russian interference in the election because she attended a 2015 dinner in Moscow sponsored by Russian television network RT with Putin. Stein has said she attended "with a message of Middle East peace, diplomacy and cooperation."
In a tweet Friday, Stein accused Clinton of "peddling conspiracy theories to justify her failure instead of reflecting on real reasons Dems lost in 2016."