Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) announced Wednesday morning that she has filed a defamation lawsuit against Hillary Clinton for the former secretary of state’s claims that Gabbard is a “Russian asset.”
In a press release published to Gabbard’s presidential election campaign website, Gabbard claimed Clinton “deliberately and maliciously made false statements in an attempt to derail Rep. Gabbard’s campaign.” Clinton made the remarks about Gabbard during an October 17, 2019 interview, saying, “somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary … [is a] favorite of the Russians… Yeah, she’s a Russian asset.”
Gabbard’s press release notes that after Clinton’s comments, the media “extensively republished and disseminated these statements, which were interpreted widely as Clinton asserting that Gabbard is a Russian asset.”
In the lawsuit itself, Gabbards attorneys at Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP allege that Clinton possibly made the remarks “out of personal animus, political enmity, or fear of real change within a political party Clinton and her allies have long dominated.” They allege Clinton lied about Gabbard “publicly, unambiguously, and with obvious malicious intent” and that the claims have harmed Gabbard.
The lawsuit calls Clinton “a cutthroat politician by any account,” who held a grudge against Gabbard because the Hawaiian politician endorsed Clinton’s presidential rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in 2016. Clinton went on to lose the election to President Donald Trump.
“Clinton had no basis for making her false assertions about Tulsi—and indeed, there is no factual basis for Clinton’s conspiracy theory. Clinton’s peddling of this theory has harmed Tulsi, has harmed American voters, and has harmed American democracy. Tulsi brings this lawsuit to ensure that the truth prevails and to ensure this country’s political elites are held accountable for intentionally trying to distort the truth in the midst of a critical Presidential election,” the lawsuit says.
Clinton made her now infamous allegations against Gabbard during an interview in October 2019 with former President Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe on his podcast “Campaign HQ.” Clinton’s remarks in full stated:
She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. And, that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset.
The lawsuit alleges that Clinton then “doubled down” on the defamatory statements the next day when her official spokesman, Nick Merrill, told CNN “If the nesting doll fits” when asked whether Clinton had been referring to Gabbard. “This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality,” Merrill continued.
Gabbard’s attorneys claim Clinton’s allegations immediately harmed their client, as “[m]illions of Americans heard (or read about) a well-known authority figure, Clinton, stating as fact that Tulsi was a ‘Russian asset’ and ‘the favorite of the Russians.’” They allege Clinton’s claims were “accepted as true by millions of Americans, including large numbers of voters in battleground Presidential primary states.”
Gabbard claims in her lawsuit that Clinton refused to retract the claim, even though several prominent public figures – as well as Gabbard – asked. Gabbard says she wrote to Clinton to explain how the comments were false and ask for a retraction, but that Clinton refused “and instead stood by them.”
“Tulsi is not a Russian asset. No one—Russia or anyone else—controls her or her presidential campaign,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, Tulsi is a loyal American servant, declaring her allegiance to the United States of America both as a soldier and as a member of Congress. She has been serving for over sixteen years in the United States Army National Guard and has voluntarily deployed twice to war zones in the Middle East.”
While Gabbard’s attorneys claim Clinton’s remarks harmed their client, it will be difficult to prove that in court. The bar for proving defamation against a public figure like Clinton is high, and Gabbard’s lawsuit presents no evidence of actual harm to her or her campaign. They don’t include poll numbers or fundraising numbers as evidence that Clinton’s remarks had any negative effect on the campaign – or any evidence that anyone even remembered what Clinton say four months ago. Still, the lawsuit claims Gabbard “has suffered significant actual damages, personally and professionally, that are estimated to exceed $50 million—and continue to this day.”
The complaint has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District.