The long-shot presidential candidate and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard is suing Hillary Clinton for defamation months after Clinton said in a podcast interview that an unspecified 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is a "Russian asset." Gabbard is seeking at least $50 million in damages.
The lawsuit, filed in New York, claims Gabbard "put the country before herself" and risked the "end of her own political career" by endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary—an endorsement that Clinton hadn't forgotten when she made the allegedly defamatory statements in October, the suit says.
More than three years after Gabbard endorsed Sanders, Clinton said in a podcast interview "someone who is currently in the Democratic primary" is a "Russian asset" in October 2019, the lawsuit says. "She's the favorite of the Russians," Clinton said.
A day later, her spokesperson Nick Merrill, when asked if Clinton was referring to Gabbard, said: "If the nesting doll fits."
"This is not some outlandish claim," Merrill told CNN at the time. "This is reality." CNN added:
Clinton did not provide proof about how Russia is "grooming" Gabbard. She and her team pointed to allegations that Russian news and propaganda sites often report on Gabbard's campaign and that moments in Gabbard's campaign have been reportedly amplified by trolls and bots on Twitter with ties to Russia. Gabbard has denied those allegations. "They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far," Clinton said. Clinton's team also noted that some of Gabbard's foreign policy views align closely with Russian interests.
Gabbard is now claiming Clinton's remarks are "defamatory" and harmed her presidential campaign when the remarks "spread like wildfire across the Internet." The lawsuit further alleges "actual malice," due to Clinton's "ill will against Tulsi" for endorsing Sanders back in 2016.
Also last October, the Senate Intelligence Committee published a report that found Russian trolls had used Facebook to influence the 2016 election, including by urging people to vote for the Green Party's Jill Stein.
Gabbard is among 12 Democrats still running to be the presidential nominee. She's polling at 1 percent and has not qualified for the upcoming February 7th debate, according to the New York Times. Gabbard's lawyer Brian Dunne suggested otherwise, saying in a statement about the lawsuit: "Her 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 false remarks."
"One would expect someone of Mrs. Clinton’s political background to act with a greater level of maturity and responsibility but her personal hostility toward Rep. Gabbard apparently clouded Mrs. Clinton’s reason and blinded her to U.S. defamation laws," Dunne said. "She resorted to a damaging campaign founded on lies, and when presented with the opportunity to retract her damaging remarks, she refused."