White House

No evidence to suggest Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian agent, Trump says

President: U.S. never promised to ‘protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives’

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks with the media at the Iowa State Fair in August. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There is no evidence to support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suggesting that Democratic Rep. and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is being supported by the Russian government, President Donald Trump said Monday.

Clinton, the party’s 2016 presidential nominee who lost to Trump, recently criticized the Hawaii lawmaker and said she clearly is “the favorite of the Russians” among the still-crowded Democratic primary field.

Officials in Moscow have “got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said, not naming Gabbard specifically.

“I don’t know Tulsi, but she’s not a Russian agent. ... They’re trying to make other people into Russian agents, Russian assets,” Trump said, wading into the matter for the first time, and saying of Clinton: “Anyone who is opposed to her is a Russian agent.”

The president called his former general election foe “sick” because “she’s accusing everyone of being a Russian agent.”

[Rare, and unapologetic, bipartisan congressional rebuke for Trump on Syria]

Of all Democrats, whom he says are obsessed with drawing lines from the Kremlin to Republicans and now Gabbard, Trump repeated his harsh attacks he uttered Thursday night at a campaign rally in Dallas: “These people are sick. There’s something wrong with them.”

Gabbard has struggled to break through during the Democratic Party’s 2020 primary. A new USA Today-Suffolk University poll shows she has just 3 percent of the support of Democrats surveyed recently.

Without offering polling data or any other evidence, Trump — who often views cable news and media coverage as an indicator — told reporters during a Cabinet meeting at the White House that Gabbard has been helped by Clinton’s remarks.

Gabbard fired back in a Sunday tweet and accompanying video, writing: “Hillary & her gang of rich, powerful elite are going after me to send a msg to YOU: ‘Shut up, toe the line, or be destroyed.’ But we, the people, will NOT be silenced.”

‘Both ways’

Meantime, the president continued to give cover to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, defending his decision to remove U.S. forces who were acting as a buffer between Kurds in northern Syria and Turkey’s military

“Plenty of Turks have been killed because of conflict on their borders. You have to look at both ways,” the president said.

He then returned to his assertion that he personally should get most of the credit for U.S. forces — backed by Kurdish fighters — taking back Syrian territory that once was controlled by the Islamic State group.

[Road ahead: House to take up Turkey sanctions while Senate turns to appropriations]

“ISIS was all over the place,” he said before again showing how much he values what is said on cable news networks. “It was me … who captured them. … I’m the one who did the capturing. I’m the one who knows more about it than you people or the fake pundits.”

Some Republican lawmakers have expressed disgust and frustration with Trump’s decision to essentially abandon the Kurds, especially since their militias played a key role — and thousands among them died — in fighting ISIS.

“Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, wrote in a Friday Washington op-ed. “Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.

“As neo-isolationism rears its head on both the left and the right, we can expect to hear more talk of ‘endless wars.’ But rhetoric cannot change the fact that wars do not just end; wars are won or lost,” McConnell wrote in a rebuke to Trump, who uses that phrase often. “America’s wars will be “endless” only if America refuses to win them.”

Despite the more-widespread-than-usual GOP pushback, the transactional Trump signaled again how temporary partnerships are under his watch.

“We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives,” he said Monday. “We’re not going to take a position. Let them fight [amongst] themselves.”

Trump contended a ceasefire in northern Syria negotiated last week by Vice President Mike Pence is “holding” other than some random “skirmishes.” 

He uttered another false statement, saying the Obama administration described its deployment of American forces into Syria as a “quick hit on ISIS.” Video of then-press secretary Josh Earnest shows him repeatedly refusing to put any time estimate on how long the U.S. troopers would stay there.

“This is not a short-term proposition in terms of our counter-ISIL strategy,” Earnest said from the White House briefing room in October 2015.

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