In a conversation on former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, “Campaign HQ,” Clinton suggested the Russians are leveraging a number of top U.S. politicians. She suggested Russia had kompromat, or compromising information, on Trump. She accused 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein of being a “Russian asset.” And she suggested Russia might back Gabbard as a third-party candidate.
“They’re also going to do third-party again,” Clinton said. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s 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.”
Clinton did not provide any evidence for her claim, though a spokesman later insisted to CNN, “This is not some outlandish claim; this is reality.” Gabbard, though, has previously ruled out an independent campaign.
Gabbard later responded harshly to Clinton on Twitter, telling her, “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.”
The “again” in Clinton’s quote referred to Stein, whom some Clinton supporters have accused (rather baselessly) of serving as a spoiler for Clinton in 2016. Stein got around 1 percent of the vote in the three decisive states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — but exit polls showed most of her voters wouldn’t have supported either Clinton or Trump if Stein weren’t running.
Clinton then flat-out labeled Stein a “Russian asset.”
“And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” Clinton said. “Yeah, she’s a Russian asset — I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.”
At another point in the interview, Clinton wagered that Russia does in fact have some compromising material on Trump, suggesting that’s why so many of Trump’s decisions have erred in a pro-Russian direction.
“I don’t know what Putin has on him, whether it’s both personal and financial,” Clinton said. “I assume it is.”
She then switched gears: “But more than that, there is this bizarre adulation Trump has for dictators and authoritarians. He dreams of being able to order people to do things and make them do it. He has no democratic instincts, really.”
The idea that Russia had information on Trump that provided leverage over him was a key, unproven claim in the Steele dossier, a document consisting of allegations involving Trump and Russia that was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Steele’s research was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Democrats have often speculated that it’s possible this claim is true, but they have generally shied away from directly endorsing it.
The White House has yet to comment.
This post has been updated.