Trying to make sense of Hillary Clinton’s suggestion last week that Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is being groomed by Russia to run for president as a third-party candidate?
This claim has prompted some of Gabbard’s 2020 rivals to defend her, with Bernie Sanders calling Clinton’s suggestion “outrageous,” and Pete Buttigieg saying that statements like Clinton’s “ought to be backed by evidence.”
Questions about Gabbard’s relationship with Russia are not new. Here’s some context about what we know:
-In January 2017, Gabbard personally met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In the wake of the meeting, she dismissed the opposition against him as “terrorists,” and later “expressed skepticism that Assad’s government was behind a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun – an attack that the UN, the US and many other countries determined Syria’s government was responsible for.”
-In early 2019, NBC News analyzed key English-language news sites used by Russia in its 2016 meddling and reported that the Gabbard “has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.” NBC reported: “In articles on the Russian sites, Gabbard is described as a ‘rebel,’ who is ‘straight-talking’ and a ‘heroic’ candidate who will ‘shake up’ the establishment.
-The Times noted that RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, mentioned Gabbard “frequently for a candidate polling in single digits,” citing an analysis by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an initiative of The German Marshall Fund.
-During the second Democratic debate, when Gabbard attacked California Sen. Kamala Harris, there were questions about whether suspicious bots had amplified a #KamalaHarrisDestroyed hashtag. Vox concluded that the evidence “isn’t clear.”
– In part because of her views on Assad and Syria, Gabbard has been enthusiastically embraced by a range of prominent white nationalists, far-right activists, and Trump supporters, including former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, as the New York Times highlighted earlier this month. (Gabbard attacked the Times for this coverage during the last debate.)
-Gabbard repeatedly referred to the war in Syria as a “regime change war” during the last Democratic debate. This phrase is “straight-up Kremlin terminology,” as journalist Miriam Elder, who previously reported from Moscow for The Guardian, tweeted during the debate.
-To defend herself against Clinton’s suggestion that she is being groomed by Russia, Gabbard went on Fox News to be interviewed by host Tucker Carlson, who has repeatedly aired white nationalist talking points on his show.