Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said Thursday that she filed a $50 million defamation suit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because Clinton has tried to "intimidate" her using "smear tactics" in an attempt to suppress her freedom of speech.
"I have dedicated my entire adult life to serving our country and for Hillary Clinton and her powerful allies to attempt to smear me and accuse me -- really implying that I'm a traitor to the country that I love -- is something that I cannot allow to go unchecked," she said.
During an October 2019 interview, Clinton suggested the Hawaiian representative was "the favorite of the Russians" and "a Russian asset." Gabbard insists these statements have no grounds in reality, and that Clinton knew or should have known this at the time.
While Clinton did not specifically name Gabbard in her remarks, she strongly implied she was referring to her. The complaint points out that when asked if she was referring to Gabbard, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill responded, "If the nesting doll fits," a reference to Russian dolls.
"Once again, this is a clear attempt to try to intimidate and silence those like me who are speaking out -- who are being critical of the policies that she has had -- the legacy of war-mongering and taking our country into unnecessary, stupid, wasteful regime change wars," said Gabbard.
"Speaking out against this foreign policy establishment is something that she clearly doesn't like, which is why she is attempting to do all she can to try to smear my reputation and undermine my campaign," Gabbard remarked.
The complaint was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP.
In her complaint, Gabbard asserts that Clinton deliberately and maliciously made false statements in an attempt to derail her 2020 campaign by alleging that Gabbard is a "Russian asset" and makes clear that neither Russia nor anyone else "controls her or her presidential campaign."
Gabbard claims that she and her campaign were substantially harmed by Clinton's statements, citing opinion surveys that showed that millions of Americans believed Clinton, including people in key primary states.
The result, the lawsuit says, is that Gabbard has lost potential donors and voters, with damages "estimated to exceed $50 million." In addition to those damages, Gabbard is seeking special and punitive damages "in view of Clinton's malicious and unrepentant conduct." She also seeks litigation costs and an injunction against further publication of the defamatory statements.
"I will not allow [these] kind of blatant smear tactics to go unchecked," Gabbard told the "Friends" hosts. "That's what this is about."
"For her to be able to use her position to essentially imply that I am a traitor to the nation that I love cannot go unchecked," she concluded. "Because if she can do it to me, and if her powerful allies can do it to me, they can do it to anyone."
Gabbard has hovered in the low single digits in national polls since the start of the 2020 presidential race.
Fox News' Ronn Blitzer and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.