Tulsi Gabbard
Credit: AFGE/Flickr

Hillary Clinton stirred up quite the hornet’s nest when she said this during a podcast interview with David Plouffe.

“I’m not making any predictions but I think they [the Kremlin] have got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said. “She’s the favorite of the Russians… They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

Even though Clinton didn’t say the name of the person she was referring to, Tulsi Gabbard immediately knew who she was talking about and responded with an unhinged rant about Clinton on Twitter—then proceeded to go on Tucker Carlson’s show to repeat her attack.

A lot of reporters in the mainstream media claimed that Clinton had accused Gabbard of being a Russian asset without any evidence, while Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, took to the New York Times to suggest that Clinton’s remarks were a conspiracy theory based simply on innuendo.

I suspect that Clinton chose her words carefully and, rather than accuse Gabbard of anything, was connecting the dots about Russia’s interference based on evidence that has been widely reported. For example, back in February, Robert Windrem and Ben Popken reported that “Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard.”

An NBC News analysis of the main English-language news sites employed by Russia in its 2016 election meddling shows Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is set to make her formal announcement Saturday, has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.

Several experts who track websites and social media linked to the Kremlin have also seen what they believe may be the first stirrings of an upcoming Russian campaign of support for Gabbard.

Having been on the front line of Putin’s last attempt to interfere in a presidential election, Clinton is very aware of the tactics that were used against her. It wasn’t simply that Moscow supported Donald Trump. In his indictment against those who participated in Russia’s social media campaign, Robert Mueller documented that they were also involved in supporting candidates during the Democratic primary.

A 37-page indictment resulting from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation shows that Russian nationals and businesses also worked to boost the campaigns of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Green party nominee Jill Stein in an effort to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton…

The document, which spells out in detail how the Russians worked to support Trump’s campaign, alleges that on or about Feb. 10, 2016, the Russians internally circulated an outline of themes for future content to be posted on social media accounts.

“Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them),’” the indictment said.

On or about Nov. 3, 2016, just five days before the election, the Russians tried to boost Stein’s campaign by buying an ad to post on the Instagram account “Blacktivisit,” according to the indictment. The ad read in part: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

The evidence is clear: Russia established a pattern of attempting to disrupt the Democratic primary in 2016 and is obviously doing the same thing this year. The only remaining question is why they chose Tulsi Gabbard.

The most obvious answer to that question is that Gabbard has centered her campaign on a message of ending regime change wars, like the one in Syria. That is based on a lie, and just so happens to reflect the talking points embraced by Assad and Putin. The United States condemned Assad’s use of violence to put down civilian protests against his regime, which is how the civil war in that country began. But U.S. military involvement in Syria has always been about defeating ISIS, particularly by working with the Kurds.

Gabbard also tries to sell herself as the anti-war candidate who stands for peace. But in addition to calling herself a “hawk” when it comes to the war on terror, her past positions hardly qualify as peaceful. When Putin and Assad began bombing northwestern Syria—a campaign that has been labeled a war crime—Gabbard endorsed their efforts.

When it comes to Gabbard’s voting record in Congress, she is one of only a handful of representatives who voted against the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russians involved in the murder of tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009. In addition, she was one of only three representatives listed as “not voting” on two other bills related to Russia.

Last week, the House voted on a bill honoring slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in Moscow in 2015. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), came with a number of provisions, including calling for an investigation into Nemtsov’s death and sanctions against those responsible. The bill also condemned Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin for persecuting political opponents…

Soon after, the House voted on a bill sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) that reiterated America’s position of not recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

Vladimir Putin has focused his efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy on three areas: (1) Ukraine, (2) Syria, and (3) overturning the Magnitsky Act. On all three, Gabbard has either provided direct support or failed to oppose his aims. Of course, it also helps that Gabbard has positioned herself to malign not only Hillary Clinton, but the entire Democratic Party as well—specifically by claiming that the 2020 election has already been rigged.

None of that is evidence to suggest that Gabbard is an active agent of the Kremlin. It might be that Putin is supporting her because her views align with his. As John Sipher notes, Russians calls someone like that a “useful idiot.”

The Russians – like the Soviets before them – generally have a much larger stable of assets. They utilize fellow travelers, terrorists, and members of fringe groups as well as maintaining friendships with people who either knowingly or unknowingly accept their propaganda. They call these people “useful idiots.”…

One reason the intelligence services in Russia are more comfortable with sources that have not signed on the dotted line is that the Kremlin uses its intelligence services for more purposes than western counterparts. …Russian intelligence services play a more central role in carrying out their foreign policy objectives. It plays an active and offensive role. They use their services to engage in information warfare, disseminate disinformation, support propaganda, engage in perception management and sow chaos abroad.

That was the focus of Clinton’s claims about Gabbard and the evidence is overwhelming that she is right to sound the alarm. To ignore it is to invite the same kind of interference that infected the 2016 presidential election.

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