- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton in federal court Wednesday, saying Mrs. Clinton’s false labeling of her as a “Russian asset” last year has cost her at least $50 million in damages.

Lawyers for Ms. Gabbard said the comments Mrs. Clinton made on a podcast in the fall were part of a revenge plan stemming from the Hawaii congresswoman’s endorsement of Sen. Bernard Sanders for president over Mrs. Clinton in February 2016.

“In October 2019 — whether out of personal animus, political enmity or fear of real change in a political party Clinton and her allies have long dominated — Clinton lied about her perceived rival Tulsi Gabbard,” said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. “She did so publicly, unambiguously and with obvious malicious intent.”

Mrs. Clinton said last year that a female candidate in the 2020 field — almost undoubtedly Ms. Gabbard — was being groomed to run in a third party, potentially boosting the prospects for President Trump’s reelection.

“She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far,” Mrs. Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, told former Obama adviser David Plouffe on the “Campaign HQ” podcast.

The lawsuit says Mrs. Clinton falsely said Ms. Gabbard was a “Russian asset,” though Mrs. Clinton might have intended to use that label for Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee.

“That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not [because] she’s also a Russian asset,” she said on the podcast. “Yeah, she’s a Russian asset. I mean, totally.”

The lawsuit says Mrs. Clinton was seeking retribution after Ms. Gabbard had endorsed Mr. Sanders, who was Mrs. Clinton’s top rival for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Sanders is now a leading contender for Democrats’ 2020 nomination.

The filing also says “Clinton’s agents” emailed Ms. Gabbard afterward and that she was told the Clinton team “would never forget this slight.”

Ms. Gabbard resigned her post as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to endorse Mr. Sanders.

“Among other things, Clinton’s agents relayed that the Clinton team will refuse to assist Tulsi in any of her campaigns,” it reads. “These agents then forwarded this correspondence to Huma Abedin (Clinton’s closest aide) and John Podesta (chairman of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign) to gloat about the beatdown they felt they delivered on Tulsi, writing ‘Hammer dropped!’”

The lawsuit says Mrs. Clinton’s comments have caused Ms. Gabbard to lose potential voters and donors and that she has suffered damages estimated at more than $50 million.

It asks for punitive damages and an injunction banning the publication of the “Defamatory Statements.”

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, responded to the lawsuit by saying: “That’s ridiculous.”

Ms. Gabbard is polling in the low single digits nationally and has struggled recently to attract fundraising and attention for her long-shot presidential campaign.

The lawsuit could win her some attention, but it’s exceedingly difficult for public figures to win defamation or libel cases, experts said.

“It’s unlikely, given the difficulty in proving actual malice, that she will ultimately prevail in court,” said Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida.

The “actual malice” standard in cases involving public officials means Ms. Gabbard must prove Mrs. Clinton knew she wasn’t a “Russian asset” at the time she made the allegation or that she made the allegation with a “reckless disregard for the truth,” Mr. Calvert said.

“What does it mean to be a Russian asset? Does it mean you’re being paid by them? That you favor Russia? And is that really, in other words, defamatory?” he said.

Ms. Gabbard has criticized the DNC and the metrics it has used to steadily winnow down the number of candidates on the presidential debate stages.

She has been featured prominently in Russian media and has had to fend off questions over her relationship with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Hawaii Democrat sided with Mr. Sanders again this week after Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that “nobody” likes him.

“It’s time to grow up. This isn’t high school,” Ms. Gabbard told WMUR-TV in New Hampshire.

Last July, Ms. Gabbard’s campaign sued Google, saying the tech giant improperly suspended her online ad account after a Democratic presidential debate.

A representative for the company said it has automated systems that flag unusual activity and Ms. Gabbard’s account was reinstated shortly after the system triggered a suspension.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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