Speaking directly to the camera in a video message posted on social media on Sunday, 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard suggested that Hillary Clinton recently "smeared" her as a "Russian asset" as payback for Gabbard's defiance of the party establishment in 2016.
"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," Gabbard, a Democrat, said in the video.
"If you stand up to Hillary and the party power brokers -- if you stand up to the rich and powerful elite and the war machine, they will destroy you and discredit your message. But, here is the truth: They will not intimidate us. They will not silence us."
The post ratcheted up an already escalating feud that has rocked the presidential primary. Several candidates, including Beto O'Rourke, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson, have criticized Clinton's unfounded suggestion that Russians have been "grooming" Gabbard to be a third-party spoiler in the race.
Gabbard, D-Hawaii, started the video by referencing her time as the vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 2013 to 2016 -- before she quit and threw her support behind Bernie Sanders. At the time, Gabbard accused party leaders of stifling her freedom of speech and unfairly tipping the scales in favor of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.
"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," Gabbard said in the video, "that she and her rich and powerful friends -- her allies in politics and the media -- will make sure you're destroyed."
Gabbard asserted that "countless hit pieces full of smears" have been published in an effort to "destroy" her reputation, which included years of military and congressional service.
At last week's New York Times-CNN primary debate, Gabbard specifically called out the Times and CNN for waging what she called a propaganda campaign against her, while also promoting endless "regime-change" wars.
"The New York Times and CNN have smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime-change war," Gabbard said. "Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable."
Clinton herself, meanwhile, has come under scrutiny for raising money secretly from Russians when she was secretary of state. "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal," read a 2015 headline in the Times.
CNN political commentator Van Jones echoed Gabbard's argument on-air, and called out Clinton's "disinformation" -- saying "she just came out against a sitting U.S. congresswoman, a decorated war veteran, and someone who's running for the nomination of our party, with just a complete smear and no facts."
Jones continued: "This is a very, very dangerous game -- and there's a backstory here. Let's not forget: Tulsi Gabbard was picked out by the Democratic Party establishment and put at the top of the DNC, and they thought she was going to be their golden girl. And, she got in that position in the DNC, and she looked around, and she saw [then-DNC Chairwoman] Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other people, Clinton allies, doing stuff they shouldn't have been doing in the primary.
"And, Tulsi publicly quit, and then endorsed Bernie Sanders, and it's been payback hell ever since," Jones said.
The brouhaha began in a podcast with former Obama adviser David Plouffe, when Clinton said she wasn't "making any predictions, but [she thinks Russians] have got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate."
"She's the favorite of the Russians" she added, saying they "have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far."
Clinton described 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein as a “Russian asset," but didn't explicitly name Gabbard. Then, when Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill was asked if Clinton was referring to Gabbard, he responded: “If the nesting doll fits …”
That prompted Gabbard to respond forcefully to Clinton on Twitter Friday, calling her the "queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party!"
Gabbard, speaking to Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight," accused Clinton of targeting her for her anti-war and anti-establishment views. Gabbard has dared Clinton to enter the race, rather than hide behind "proxies."
In response, several journalists and analysts openly sided with Clinton -- with The Week declaring Gabbard's comments "outrageous."
Two MSNBC panelists even asserted that Gabbard somehow had outed herself as a "Russian asset" by responding to Clinton's accusations at all.
"One thing that was interesting about Tulsi Gabbard's response, I mean she went after Hillary Clinton strong, she said she wasn't going to run as a third-party candidate, she never denied being a Russian asset," WBUR's Kimberly Atkins said on "MSNBC Live."
Atkins continued: "That was the one aspect that was missing from her response, which you think that would be in the first line or two. It was not there."
Overlooking the fact that Clinton's spokesperson signaled that Clinton was referring directly to Gabbard, analyst Jonathan Allen responded: "When Hillary Clinton says there's a Russian asset, doesn't say anybody's name, and Tulsi Gabbard goes, 'How dare you call me a Russian asset?' I mean, you know. ..."
Anchor Jonathan Capehart then excitedly interjected to argue that Gabbard had indeed admitted she was a secret Russian asset, and essentially raised her hand to say, "Me! Me!" even though Clinton didn't explicitly "name names."