Below is my column the Hill newspaper on the recent accusation of Hillary Clinton that presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is a “Russian asset.” What is most astonishing is the silence of virtually all of the other presidential candidates. Only Yang and Williamson came out quickly to support Gabbard. For presidential candidates denouncing Donald Trump for his personal attacks and reckless hyperbole, it is the height of hypocrisy to remain silent unless they believe that Gabbard is indeed a Russian asset. If so, they should have the courage to say so, particularly front runner Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
Here is the column:
“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” Journalist Edward Murrow said those words 65 years ago, responding to Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy and his accusations of Americans being “Russian stooges” and “fellow travelers.” Murrow declared that, despite the best efforts of political opportunists, “We will not walk in fear, one of another.”
Those words came to mind after former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accused current Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of being a “Russian asset” in the 2020 election. It seems there is a communist stooge behind every poll, as people like Clinton make support for the establishment a loyalty test.
Long ago, I wrote about how the Russia investigation was spurring a new type of “red scare” as critics denounced Donald Trump, Republican members of Congress, and commentators as Russian apologists or Kremlin assets. It was not enough that most of us agreed that Russian intervention in the 2016 election was worthy of investigation. It did not matter that special counsel Robert Mueller determined that no one in the Trump campaign knowingly worked with Russian agents.
It does not matter that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders reportedly have said they do not want to impeach Trump on Russian conspiracy claims, a curious thing, given their years of claiming clear proof of such crimes. It also does not matter that the United States has a long history of intervening in foreign elections, or that we have regularly hacked the emails of foreign foes as well as close allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. To even utter such facts is to find oneself on the feared “fellow travelers” list.
Clinton made her accusation on the “Campaign HQ” podcast, telling host and former Obama aide David Plouffe that the Russians “got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate.” That someone appeared to be Gabbard, who she claimed, is “the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.” She warned that Gabbard might run as a third party candidate at the behest of the Russians, continuing, “That is assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she is also a Russian asset.”
These comments by Clinton seem right out of the infamous Republican National Convention speech by McCarthy in 1952, in which he painted a widening group of Americans as Russian assets. He declared, “Our job as Americans and as Republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they have been sent to do their traitorous work.” It is an irresistible temptation to portray opponents as Russian cutouts or conspirators, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before accusations of Russian conspiracy moved from Republican to Democratic rivals.
Clinton may hate Gabbard even more than she hates Trump, for the contrast Gabbard creates with figures like Clinton. Gabbard is a former Army National Guard major who served in Iraq and has long opposed our foreign wars and interventions. Clinton supported wars in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan before trying to distance herself from those conflicts that cost thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars.
Gabbard responded to Clinton, calling her “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party.” Rather than step back, the Clinton camp has continued to mock Gabbard as a tool of foreign interests for her efforts against wars. In true McCarthy fashion, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill taunted, “Assad day for your candidacy,” a reference to the meeting between Gabbard and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in 2017.
The Clinton aversion to Russia appears to be an acquired distaste. Her campaign spent a massive amount of money seeking dirt on Trump from foreign sources, including Russian intelligence assets, in 2016. The Clinton campaign denied any involvement in the creation of the Christopher Steele dossier that the Obama administration used to secure a secret surveillance warrant against Trump associates. The campaign hid its payments to the opposition research firm Fusion GPS as “legal fees” among the millions of dollars paid to its law firm.
Clinton lawyer Marc Elias vigorously denied to the New York Times that the campaign funded the dossier. Reporters proved that was false, with journalist Maggie Haberman noting, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.” Even when Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was questioned by Congress, he denied any contractual agreement with Fusion GPS, as Elias sat beside him.
It is notable that the Democratic cry of “Russian stooges” involves fear of a third party challenge. The establishment has pushed Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee, just as it pushed Clinton in 2016. Biden, however, has become embroiled in his signature gaffs and the questionable business dealings of his son. This week, a respected diplomat testified that he raised concerns about Hunter Biden and his deals to the staff of the former vice president but was shut down in those efforts.
For those of us who have long opposed the hold of the two major parties over our government, the Clinton attack is right on schedule. Every election, the establishment tells voters they have no alternative but to choose the lesser of two evils offered by this duopoly. A vote for a third party candidate is portrayed as supporting the other party.
Now, however, red baiting may be needed to maintain control. The argument for the lesser of evils did not work for Democrats in 2016. Despite polls showing a strong sentiment against the establishment, the party rigged its primaries in favor of Clinton, the ultimate establishment figure. That election became a contest between the two least popular candidates to run for president. Many voters saw Trump not as an ideal choice but as a way to defy the establishments of both parties.
Voters are even more unhappy today with the choice between Trump and his current challengers on the left. For some of us, the choice seems between an environmental apocalypse offered by Trump and an economic meltdown offered by Democrats. That could play into the hands of a strong third party candidate, which is why it is necessary for the establishment to portray such a vote as a Russian conspiracy.
The question is whether voters again will be duped, not by the Russians, but by our own American politicians here at home. Much has changed since 1954, when attorney Joseph Welch exposed McCarthy with his famous inquiry, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” One thing is abundantly clear in government today. There is no room for decency in our duopoly of power.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.