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In Context: Hillary Clinton on Tulsi Gabbard, the Trump campaign and Russia
In this April 23, 2019, file photo, Hillary Clinton speaks during the TIME 100 Summit, in New York. (AP/Richard Drew) In this April 23, 2019, file photo, Hillary Clinton speaks during the TIME 100 Summit, in New York. (AP/Richard Drew)

In this April 23, 2019, file photo, Hillary Clinton speaks during the TIME 100 Summit, in New York. (AP/Richard Drew)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde October 22, 2019

Hillary Clinton in a podcast interview said that a Democratic contender for president is being groomed to eventually run as a third party candidate in the 2020 election. Without giving a name, Clinton said the female candidate was "the favorite of the Russians."

At the end of his interview with Clinton, David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, said "some of the headlines coming out of it maybe her belief that Tulsi Gabbard is going to be a third-party candidate propped up by Trump and the Russians."

Clinton’s remarks did prompt news headlines saying Clinton suggested that U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, was being groomed by Russians and was a Russian asset. CNN host Van Jones said that Clinton had come out against Tulsi with "a complete smear and no facts."

President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter during an Oct. 21 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity: "Then you have Hillary Clinton saying two days ago, Chelsea, ‘Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset,’ and that Jill Stein is a Russian agent. And I said, wait a minute, it took me two-and-a-half years, I wish she would have said that earlier because people would have realized she is crazy. She’s crazy."

But Clinton’s spokesman Nick Merrill said Clinton was being misinterpreted and that people should listen to the podcast. "She doesn’t say the Russians are grooming anyone. It was a question about Republicans," Merrill tweeted, tagging Jones in his tweet.

So did Clinton mean that the Russians were grooming Gabbard, or that Trump supporters were supporting Gabbard hoping for a third-party candidate?

Below is the context of the Oct. 17 interview, so that readers can decide for themselves. Clinton and Plouffe in this part of the interview were talking about what Democrats needed to do to win and about Trump’s strategy. (And after Clinton’s comments, you can read Gabbard’s response. Gabbard also is a former vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She resigned that position in 2016 to support Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in his 2016 presidential race.)

Clinton: "The thing we have to do is get enough people to turn out so that they can’t, you know, steal those votes through suppression in Wisconsin, or convince blacks not to vote in Michigan, all the stuff that they did this last time which was very effective and the Russians play a big role in." 

Plouffe: "Right, and they’ll double down on this time. Trump had those advantages but he was not an incumbent. So as we know, whether it’s Ronald Regan, your husband, Barack Obama, those first 18 months of the election cycle were as important as the last six months. …

"You know, Donald Trump, as you know better than anyone in the world, only got 46.1% of the vote nationally. You know he got 47.2 in Wisconsin, 47.7 in Michigan, and if you had said those before the election you would have said he's going to lose in a landslide."

Clinton: "Right."

Plouffe: "But one of the reasons he was able to win is the third party vote."

Clinton: "Right."

Plouffe: "And what's clear to me, you mentioned, you know, he's going to just lie. ... He's going to say, whoever our nominee is, ‘will ban hamburgers and steaks and you can't fly and infanticide’ and people believe this. So, how concerned are you about that? For me, so much of this does come down to the win number. If he has to get 49 or even 49.5 in a bunch of…"

Clinton: "He can't do that."

Plouffe: "...which I don't think he can... So he's going to try and drive the people not to vote for him but just to say, ‘you know, you can't vote for them either.’ And that seems to be, I think, to the extent that I can define a strategy, their key strategy right now."

Clinton: "Well, I think there's going to be two parts and I think it's going to be the same as 2016: ‘Don't vote for the other guy. You don't like me? Don't vote for the other guy because the other guy is going to do X, Y and Z or the other guy did such terrible things and I'm going to show you in these, you know, flashing videos that appear and then disappear and they're on the dark web, and nobody can find them, but you're going to see them and you're going to see that person doing these horrible things.’"

"They're also going to do third party again. And 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, and that's assuming Jill Stein will give it up. Which she might not, 'cause she's also a Russian asset."

Plouffe: (Inaudible)

Clinton: "Yeah, she's a Russian asset, I mean, totally.

"And so, they know they can't win without a third party candidate and, so, I don't know who it's going to be it but I will guarantee you they'll have a vigorous third party challenge in the key states that they most need it."

Gabbard pushed back in a series of tweets and in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Gabbard tweeted Oct. 18: 

"Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have 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."

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In Context: Hillary Clinton on Tulsi Gabbard, the Trump campaign and Russia