Earlier this week, Clinton said that Gabbard is a Russian asset, and that the Kremlin is “grooming” her for a third-party run in 2020.
The former secretary of state suggested that Moscow wants to prop up Gabbard in order to turn her into a spoiler and help President Donald Trump win again.
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Buttigieg about Clinton’s accusations, wondering whether it is “helpful” for the former first lady to be “suggesting that a congresswoman is a Russian asset.”
“I would prefer the conversation about policy,” Buttigieg dodged the question, insisting that the host change the topic.
However, Tapper persisted, grilling the presidential candidate.
“But do you think Tulsi Gabbard’s a Russian asset?” he asked.
“I don’t know what the basis is for that,” Buttigieg responded.
“Me neither,” said Tapper, prompting the White House hopeful to argue once again that he’d rather talk about other issues.
Tapper did not budge, continuing to grill his guest. The host made a comparison between Trump and Clinton, pointing out that Democrats unite when they feel like the president is smearing someone.
According to Tapper, Clinton’s attack on Gabbard is an “obvious smear” as well.
“I don’t see any evidence she’s a Russian asset,” the host said, describing the former secretary of state’s accusations as “wild.”
Buttigieg finally caved to Tapper’s pressure, responding that “statements like that ought to be backed by evidence.”
Instead of focusing on unsubstantiated allegations, according to Buttigieg, Democrats should focus on “the things that are actually undermining America.”
Buttigieg is not the first prominent Democrat to break with Clinton on this issue.
Fellow White House hopeful Beto O’Rourke did the same, albeit in a more aggressive fashion. The Texas Democrat did not mince his words, openly defending Gabbard against Clinton’s accusations, and pointing to her military record.
“Tulsi is not being groomed by anyone,” he said.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who is also running for president, dismissed Clinton’s claims as well.
A number of other prominent public figures criticized the former secretary of state, including CNN’s Erin Burnett and Van Jones. Both suggested that Clinton is smearing Gabbard, and spreading a baseless conspiracy theory.
Gabbard has long been considered a controversial politician, largely due to her ties to Hindu nationalist organizations and her alleged support for dictators such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
However, there is no evidence that she has ties to the Kremlin.