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‘Obvious malicious intent’: Tulsi Gabbard hits Clinton with defamation suit over ‘Russian asset’ smear

‘Obvious malicious intent’: Tulsi Gabbard hits Clinton with defamation suit over ‘Russian asset’ smear
Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard is suing two-time White House runner-up Hillary Clinton over her claim that Gabbard was a “Russian asset,” alleging that the lie hurt not just her campaign but the entire election.

Clinton “lied about her perceived rival Tulsi Gabbard… publicly, unambiguously, and with obvious malicious intent” when she claimed Gabbard was "the favorite of the Russians," the campaign alleges in the suit, filed on Wednesday in the federal Southern District of New York. While Clinton isn’t technically running against Gabbard in the 2020 contest, the filing drily notes that the role of president is “a position Clinton has long coveted, but has not been able to attain.” 

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The filing alleges Clinton harmed not just Gabbard but also “American voters” and “American democracy” by pushing the baseless smear, citing “scientifically conducted opinion surveys” indicating that millions of potential voters believed Clinton’s claims due to her status as a political insider and authority figure with likely access to non-public information. Over 200 articles have been published amplifying the smear since Clinton first uttered it in an October episode of Democratic strategist David Plouffe’s ‘Campaign HQ’ podcast, and the campaign estimates the former secretary of state’s attacks cost Gabbard $50 million in lost donations, lost votes, and reputational damage.

While Clinton never retracted the inflammatory claim that Gabbard was working for the Kremlin – despite a formal request from the Hawaii congresswoman’s campaign – her representatives did attempt to retrospectively muddy the waters. After Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill verified that she was indeed referring to Gabbard with a snarky “if the nesting doll fits” after Clinton’s initial comments in October, he subsequently backpedaled, trying to claim that Clinton meant Republicans – not Russians – were pulling the candidate’s strings. The resulting “corrections” streamed unevenly through the media, confusing no one bar a few copy-editors.

The Gabbard campaign has requested a jury trial in addition to legal restrictions on republishing the smear, and also seeks at least $50 million in compensatory, punitive and special damages. The filing painstakingly lays out Gabbard’s history of service to her country, indicating that Clinton could not possibly have believed the Iraq war vet and House Foreign Relations Committee member was “the favorite of the Russians,” and must therefore have been deliberately lying. It cites Clinton’s “long-time grudges” as the likely rationale for the attack, recalling that Gabbard resigned her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in protest and voiced support for Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders after it emerged that the DNC had put its thumb on the scale in the 2016 primary contest to help the former New York senator.

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Clinton has not publicly responded to the lawsuit as of Wednesday afternoon. The former First Lady has shown no signs of letting go of 2016-era rivalries, however, recently claiming in an interview that “no one likes” or wants to work with Sanders, who recently polled as the most popular member of the US Senate.

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