A week after a torrent of press reports that Hillary Clinton had branded presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard a Russian spy – and angry comebacks from the Gabbard campaign – a closer listening to the podcast that launched the fight reveals the former secretary of state never said it.
The interview, with former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe for his ‘Campaign HQ’ podcast, revealed Clinton’s fear that Republicans will try to divide Democrats in 2020 by fostering third-party campaigns that could siphon off liberal votes.
‘I’m not making any predictions,’ Clinton said, ‘but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate. She’s a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.’
Plouffe had prompted her by predicting that President Donald Trump’s campaign will ‘try and drive people’ to decide they ‘can’t vote for them’ – the Democrats. ‘That seems to be, I think, to the extent that I can divine a strategy. Their key strategy right now.’
Clinton replied that the GOP would embrace a two-part plan: trashing the eventual Democratic nominee, and ‘they’re also going to do third party [promotion].’
Hillary Clinton was accused last week of saying Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was a Russian agent, but she never made that claim
Gabbard said she wanted to confront Clinton ‘face-to-face’ about an allegation that it turns out she never made
The New York Times article as originally published (left) claimed Hillary Clinton had said Russia was ‘grooming’ Tulsi Gabbard; the Times quietly corrected it (right) to show she was talking about Republicans
The New York Times initially reported that Clinton had claimed Russia was ‘grooming’ Gabbard, and the Hawaii congresswoman responded with a biting retort on Twitter.
The Times quietly changed its hard-charging article on Tuesday to read that while Clinton had argued ‘Russia was backing’ Gabbard, she said ‘Republicans were “grooming” her as a third-party candidate.’
The media avalanche that followed the Times’ reporting has been left largely intact.
A White House aide said Wednedsay that ‘the whole thing is just more fake news.’
Gabbard, an active duty Army National Guard officer as well as a lawmaker, has said she has no interest in running for president as a third-party candidate.
Although Clinton did not explicitly name Gabbard in the podcast interview, her spokesman Nick Merrill piled on with a tweeted response to questions about whether she was the target.
‘If the nesting doll fits,’ Merrill said, referring to the iconic matryoshka dolls common in Russia.
Clinton’s spokesman Nick Merrill tweeted that the Times had stealth-edited its story
He tweeted Tuesday that the Times had ‘incorrectly’ quoted Clinton ‘saying that the “Russians” were “grooming” a candidate running in the Democratic primary. They rightfully fixed it to reflect that she was taking about the GOP.’
‘I too am tired of talking about this, but let’s again set the record straight,’ Merrill added. ‘HRC speculated that the only way the GOP is going to win in states where Trump can’t hit a 50% majority is to 1) Suppress the vote, as they do widely and routinely, & 2) Bank on the 3rd party spoiler.’
‘And yes,’ he continued, ‘she said that certain fringe members of the Democratic and Green parties are assets to the Russians. Well guess what folks? That’s true. She didn’t call anyone a spy, as some are wrongly asserting for their own political gain.’
Merrill’s used of the word ‘assets’ appears to refer generally to anti-Clinton forces being helpful to Moscow. News reports have used the word to suggest that Gabbard is an intelligence ‘asset’ to the Kremlin.
Trump expressed empathy for Gabbard on Monday, saying he had some familiarity with unfairly being accused of serving as a Russian spy.
‘I said, wait a minute, it took me two-and-a-half years, I wish [Clinton] would have said that earlier because people… have realized she is crazy. She’s crazy,’ the president told Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview.
‘She’s accusing everyone of being a Russian agent,’ Trump had told reporters, referring to Clinton. ‘She’s not a Russian agent. These people are sick. There’s something wrong with them.’
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also came to her defense.
‘Tulsi Gabbard has put her life on the line to defend this country. People can disagree on issues, but it is outrageous for anyone to suggest that Tulsi is a foreign asset,’ he Monday, noting her overseas military deployment.
‘Thank you for speaking the truth,’ Gabbard replied.
Gabbard suggested in a weekend video that her decision to support Sanders’ candidacy is linked to Clinton’s ‘smear’ of her.
Bernie Sanders also came to Gabbard’s defense. Gabbard stepped down from her post as vice chairwoman of the DNC and endorsed Sanders in 2016 instead of establishment Democrat Hillary Clinton
He said the attack from Clinton against Gabbard was ‘outrageous’ – not knowing that it was misreported
‘People warned me in 2016 that my endorsement of Bernie Sanders would be the end of my ‘political career.’ They said Clinton would never forget, that she and her rich and powerful friends – her allies in politics and the media – will make sure you’re destroyed,’ she said in the video, tweeted Sunday.
‘If they can falsely portray me as a traitor, then they can do it to anyone . And in fact, that’s exactly the message they want to get across to you,’ she continued.
Spokespersons for Clinton and Gabbard did not respond Wednesday to questions about the flawed reporting or why they continued for a week to wage war against each other based on the assumption that it was correct.