Washington — Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard filed a defamation lawsuit against Hillary Clinton on Wednesday over comments Clinton made last year seemingly alleging Gabbard is a "Russian asset."
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges Clinton lied about Gabbard, a four-term congresswoman from Hawaii, "publicly, unambiguously, and with obvious malicious intent" when she made derogatory comments in October 2019 in an effort to hurt Gabbard's bid for the White House. Gabbard's campaign is included as a co-plaintiff in the suit.
"Clinton's peddling of this theory has harmed Tulsi, has harmed American voters, and has harmed American democracy," Gabbard's lawyers said. "Tulsi brings this lawsuit to ensure that the truth prevails and to ensure this country's political elites are held accountable for intentionally trying to distort the truth in the midst of a critical presidential election."
The comments at issue came during an interview Clinton did with the political podcast Campaign HQ with David Plouffe. During the episode, Clinton spoke about an unnamed candidate in the Democratic primary who she said was being groomed to launch a third-party bid for the presidency.
"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, because she is also a Russian asset — yeah, she's a Russian asset. I mean, totally," Clinton said.
The day after the episode aired, Clinton's spokesman Nick Merrill was pressed about whether the comments were about Gabbard and replied, "If the nesting doll fits." He later clarified that Clinton believed the Republican Party, not Russia, was grooming Gabbard for a third-party bid.
Asked for reaction to Gabbard's lawsuit on Wednesday, Merrill responded, "That's ridiculous."
While campaigning in New Hampshire on Wednesday night, Gabbard said she "will not stand quietly by as Hillary Clinton or anyone else tries to smear my character, and my loyalty and dedication to serving our country."
But Gabbard dodged questions about the lawsuit, which was printed, stapled and distributed to the press corps prior to the gaggle. She said the funding of the lawsuit is still being sorted.
"I think that's something that's being worked out and we'll announce that once it's finished," she said.
"Look, I'm a patriot. I love our country. I've dedicated my life in service to protecting the safety, security and freedom of the American people, put my life on the line for our country through my 17 years, almost 17 years in service as a soldier, the Army National Guard, and served my country in Congress now for 7 going on 8 years," Gabbard told reporters. "I will not stand by and allow Hillary Clinton or anyone else to smear me as a traitor to the country that I love. The lawsuit that I filed is to hold her accountable for those defamatory statements that she made."
Gabbard also sent around a fundraising request on Wednesday night, asking supporters to "help me stand up to Hillary Clinton."
In the suit, Gabbard describes Clinton as "a cutthroat politician by any account" who wanted to punish her for endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election "by lying, publicly and loudly, about" the Hawaii congresswoman. Clinton defeated Sanders to win the Democratic presidential nomination but lost in the general election to President Trump.
"At the very least, Clinton acted in reckless disregard of the truth of falsity of the defamatory statements when she published them," Gabbard's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, adding that the remarks caused the 2020 presidential candidate to lose potential donors and voters.
Gabbard estimates she has suffered actual damages of at least $50 million and said Clinton has"greatly harmed Tulsi's presidential campaign."
Nicole Sganga contributed reporting.
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