Free Speech

Hillary Clinton's 'Russian Asset' Comment About Tulsi Gabbard Was Dumb, Not Defamatory

"Your statement is defamatory, and we demand that you retract it immediately," Gabbard's lawyer wrote in a letter.

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) has made quite the impression as she attempts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. Her efforts were unwittingly elevated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently appeared to liken Gabbard to a "Russian asset." The congresswoman is now threatening Clinton with a defamation lawsuit over that statement.

"Your statement is defamatory, and we demand that you retract it immediately," Gabbard's attorney said in a letter to Clinton, urging that the 2016 Democratic candidate post the retraction to Twitter and disseminate it to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

"In making the statement, you knew it was false. Congresswoman Gabbard is not a Russian asset and is not being groomed by Russia," the letter said. "Besides your statement, no law enforcement or intelligence agencies have claimed, much less presented any evidence, that Congresswoman Gabbard is a Russian asset. This fabricated story is so facially improbable that it is actionable as defamation."

While Clinton's allegations were certainly odd, they are nowhere near the threshold for illegal slander, making this nothing more than political grandstanding. That's particularly apparent in that, while Clinton did speculate that a third-party run was imminent for Gabbard, it would come at the behest of Republicansnot the Russians. And while Clinton did drop a name, it wasn't Gabbard's.

"They are going to do third party again," said Clinton in a conversation about GOP strategy in the 2020 election with David Plouffe, a former campaign manager for Barack Obama. "I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on someone who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She's a favorite of the Russians and they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That's assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she's also a Russian asset."

When a CNN reporter sought to confirm that Clinton was referring to Gabbard, Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill responded, "if the nesting doll fits." But Merrill also clarified that Clinton said it is the GOP that is "grooming her." That makes far more sense in the larger context of the conversation between Clinton and Plouffe. It also lines up with a certain public perception of Gabbard, who has been maligned by the left for her regular appearances on right-leaning Fox News programs.

How could such comments by Clinton possibly amount to defamation, which requires someone to circulate a "false statement of fact" with malice or negligence for the sake of harming another's reputation? In my view, Clinton's comments amount to nothing more than silly, unfounded speculation. Never did she claim that Gabbard is a pro-Russian traitor.

Even so, it's understandable why Gabbard would take issue with the remarks, which were presented without concrete evidence. But ill-founded criticism is not the same thing as illegal speech.

Regrettably, Gabbard's understanding of how the First Amendment works seems equally shaky across the board. In July, for example, she sued Google for violating the First Amendment after it suspended her advertising account for a few hours following June's initial Democratic debate. The company alleges that her wave of support temporarily triggered an anti-fraud freeze; she accuses the company of bias and of trampling her free speech rights. Perhaps she has good reason to be upset, but the First Amendment protects her against government censorship, not from the business decisions made by private companies.

In this case, if Gabbard had her way, all sorts of overheated political rhetoric could become subject to costly defamation suits. I fundamentally oppose Clinton's unsupported political finger-pointing, including her blurb about Gabbard. But the irony surrounding Gabbard's counterclaim is difficult to ignore: It sounds less compatible with American society, and perhaps more suited to that of Russia.

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  1. Isn’t there a pretty high standard for defamation of public figures? Obviously the accusation was stupid (and really only served to enhance Gabbard’s polling), but it shouldn’t be legally actionable.

    1. Sounds like something a Russian Asset would say.

      1. How would you know, comrade?

        1. Clearly the “Russian asset” statement constitutes a libel, and as such should be criminalized pursuant not only to the laws of Russia itself, but to those of the various American states where libel is still a crime. As Eugene Volokh has argued at length, there is no “constitutional” objection to criminalizing libel (regardless of the highly misleading “free speech” arguments of certain international “human rights” organizations which Eugene, with appropriate discretion, rightly passes over in silence). Strong support for Volokh’s position is offered by our great nation’s leading criminal “parody” case, where only a single, isolated, so-called judge put forward a “First Amendment dissent” that everybody knows is baloney. See the documentation at:

          https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    2. Honestly, yes there is a pretty high standard. Specifically, that standard is if a comment was made with intent to harm and knowledge that it was false. The comment by Clinton appears to meet both criteria, but that’s my armchair opinion.

      1. But on the other hand, she’s obviously insane.

        1. Not insane. Probably just drunk tweeting. I don’t blame her. She is likely bored, doesn’t have any friends, Bill is certainly not a companion. Couple glasses of vodka in the afternoon can be a great comfort in the later years.

      2. No, it certainly was intended to harm. But I doubt that Clinton actually knows for a fact that it’s false. She merely had no reason to believe it was true.

      3. Tulsi is a decorated war hero. She did two tours of combat duty. Right in the thick of it in Iraq. Any, has continued for the last 16 serving in the Hawaii National Guard attaining the rank of Major. An authentic Patriot. And, village idiot war criminal HRC smears her as a Traitor To Her Country, a Benedict Arnold, at best a “useful idiot”. Not only is it grossly defamatory, it’s singularly despicable. I hope Tulsi does sue because I think a lot of juries would side with her. Tulsi makes a nice impression. A lot of men find her adorable. Conversely, Hillary’s sore loser routine and constant commentary that only helps Trump has alienated most Americans. Tulsi can win this. A lot of people would like to see Hillary held accountable for her crimes.

    3. “Legally actionable” and “defamatory” are two different things. The claim she was a Russian asset was absolutely defamatory. It just likely didn’t meet the extremely high threshold for a public figure to be able to sue for libel.

      1. Agree here. It doesn’t meet the threshold unless Trump is able to keep his promise to “open up all the libel laws”. I don’t think anyone would like to see the side effects of that.

      2. This 100%.
        It was absolutely defamatory, but it wasn’t libelous enough to win a case.

    4. Public figures like that creepy smirker teen who “attacked” that peacefull drummer?

      1. Smiling is racist when being attacked by your betters.

    5. Her Shrillness, Granny Maojackets von Pantsuit is vicious, stupid, and needs (for her own sake) to have some sort of governor put on her mouth.

  2. It looks like defamation and libel/slander lawsuits are all the rage with Russian assets.

  3. Your statement is defamatory, and we demand that you retract it immediately

    No.

    Attached please find a check to the Clinton Foundation

    We’d like take this time to extend our most sincere apologies to Representative Gabbard…

  4. if by Hillary, with malice.

    1. No need to repeat yourself.

    1. “feminism, atheism, homosexuality as extremist ideas”

      They’re not wrong. Shift the Overton window back a decade to its 2009 location, and even in Northern Europe they’d be viewed as extremist.

  5. “She’s a favorite of the Russians and they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset.”
    Hilary clearly states that an individual, later confirmed by her spokesperson to be Gabbard, is a “Russian asset”. While she didn’t explicitly say Gabbard is a pro-Russian Traitor the term has certainly been used that way in the past. While I doubt Tulsi expects to prevail in this lawsuit I find it odd that Reason decided yet again to come to the defense of perhaps the most evil politician in the history of the republic. Oh that’s right. She was their favored candidate.

    1. >>>the term has certainly been used that way in the past

      to describe Pavel Bure for one.

      1. Geez, I didn’t remember how badly Vancouver had reacted to Bure’s antics in 1999. But after Keenan blew up the team, they totally sucked. I’d want out, too, if I were as talented as that guy. Looking Out For #1 is not the same thing as Traitor. It’s about as libertarian as you can get — here on Reason, Bure should be a hero!

        1. lol. word. also I loved Mike Keenan but I’m a Flyers fan, so…

        2. Bure and Sergei Fedorov we’re passing Anna kournikova back and forth. Nice! Talk about a Russian asset!

    2. In that context it doesn’t really sound like she is accusing Gabbard of being a Russian agent, or anything like that. Just saying that the Russians like her effect on American politics. “Asset” seems like perhaps a poor choice of words.
      But, still a ridiculous thing to say. She’s a joke at this point.

      1. “Asset” seems like perhaps a poor choice of words.

        If the link is solely to Republicans what’s with the “nesting doll” reference? Is there some particular Republican known for collecting them?

        It seems more like Clintonists believe their Trump smear has been successfully normalized so it’s now available for use on anyone.

        1. They got nothing else.
          They’re not that smart a bunch

          1. And yet they have been outsmarting (indeed, curb-stomping) clingers for decades . . .

            1. Of course, that explains how Clinton is now President. And how Democrats control both houses of Congress. And most of the state legislatures. Oh wait, I forgot, you’re out of touch with Reality.

    3. Yeah, libertarians REALLY think the Clinton cabal was a good thing for America.

      Hell, the LP VP preferred her as well.

    4. I’m new here and didn’t know that the reptile witch was Reason’s favorite candidate. That’s pretty sad. Trump won because huge swaths of Americans voted for the devil they didn’t know over the devil they did. It was a very sensible decision. I thought that’s what Reason was supposed to be about.

      1. Reason hires cheap LINO’s to pad out the magazine.
        Most are actually college-leftist types who think of Reason as temp-work, and aspire to the big establishment liberal papers like the NYT.

  6. I thought Crooked Hillary’s comment was dumb and defamatory.

    1. Is that an Ave Maria or Liberty law degree talking, or is it something you remember from an off-brand homeschooling outline?

  7. Regrettably, Gabbard’s understanding of how the First Amendment works seems equally shaky across the board. In July, for example, she sued Google for violating the First Amendment after it suspended her advertising account for a few hours following June’s initial Democratic debate.

    This is consistently funny every time Binion does it. No citations from independent scholars. No outside legal opinions, just flat-out parroting the Clinton spokesperson’s talking points.

    The guy is such a lying, ill-informed hack that if Gabbard said the Earth was flat and Binion said she was wrong I’d be in a quandry about who’s side to take. Gabbard’s obviously wrong, but it overtly devolves into issue of a German division in front of me vs. a French one behind me.

    1. Billy is top stupid to realize Gabbard released this statement 2 weeks later solely for the press, not thinking she would win the suit.

      Dont know why Billy is parsing Hillary’s statements in this article though. Everyone knows who hillary meant. Billy aiming for a politifact job?

      1. Tulso should sue Billy and Hilly.

      2. Billy’s aim is probably a little lower. As in Snopes low.

    2. The guy is such a lying, ill-informed hack that if Gabbard said the Earth was flat and Binion said she was wrong I’d be in a quandry about who’s side to take

      Two things that baffle me:
      1. Binion’s lies are lazy. He doesn’t even make the barest effort to craft an argument, and doesn’t seem to care if he’s caught lying.
      2. Even though his lies are so obvious, Reason doesn’t seem to care.

  8. Ok, so, we do understand that there is a difference between *legal* defamation and just plain old ordinary defamation, right?

    Like, sure, those statements don’t rise to the level that a court would say ‘yes, you’ve defamed this person and owe damages’, but the statements were still defamatory. It was a genuine attempt to damage the reputation of someone.

    Just because its not illegal doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.

    1. >>genuine attempt to damage the reputation of someone.

      is it defamatory if the attempt goes down in flames?

      1. So, by your reasoning, if you can prove it’s wrong, it can’t be defamatory because you can prove it’s wrong. And if you can’t prove it’s wrong, it can’t be defamatory because you can’t prove it’s wrong.

        It’s like the witch’s test: you lose no matter what.

        1. it made Tulsi more popular. if anything, Hillary is a Tulsi agent.

  9. It sounds less compatible with American society, and perhaps more suited to that of Russia.

    What a douchebag. It’s revealing he simply repeats the Clinton’s self-serving recovery efforts as fact even though if the grooming party is the Reps Clinton still claimed Gabbard is a Russian asset. Also note “nesting doll” is a clear reference to Russia which Billy Boy ignores because doing so is the only way to reach the conclusion he wants.

    But the kicker is opining that being outraged over being called a Russian asset is worse than calling someone a Russian asset.

    1. I cant tell if billy is fucking retarded or not with that final sentence. It was a press play by Tulsi and it worked. If it lasted 10 years like the Mann vs National Review lawsuit Billy would have a point.

      Billy just comes off as a hillary white knighting douche here.

      1. hillary white knighting douche here.

        That’s a good summary. Immature libertarians seem to have a need to jump on everything to prove they’re smarter than everyone else. Even if they are it’s a turn off. But when they’re not – like Billy – it’s just unfathomably idiotic.

    2. No joke. Binion is a fucking joke. When Reason is now going all “You know, McCarthy wasn’t that bad, actually. Should’ve been more like Palmer, though” you get why the LP is in such a shambles.

      1. Legit question: Which “writer” has the least familiarity with rational thinking: Shikha or Binion?

        1. Don’t forget Suderman and Welch… and ENB has the occasional aneurysm too.

  10. Cotdammit I hate Billy Fn Bunion

  11. This fabricated story is so facially improbable that it is actionable as defamation.

    Tell that to Trump.
    Speaking of which – –
    ‘defamation, which requires someone to circulate a “false statement of fact” with malice or negligence for the sake of harming another’s reputation’
    seems to fit like a glove.

  12. I don’t understand the thinking that Republicans would want Gabbard to run 3rd party. Seems like she could pull some votes from both sides and be dangerous for Trump.

    1. That’s really the foolish part of this. On pure optics and likability, she has Trump beat. She also takes back the left leaning independents and sour Bernie supporters that he got in 2016. I’m not sure if she’d also grab up enough of Democrats to make the numbers work in Trump’s favor (especially considering how media and debates shut out third parties).
      It’s a stupid contention from those trying to cover for Hillary. Anyone seeing her statement in context realizes she was explicitly calling Tulsi a Russian agent and understands the statement is defamatory, if not legally so. Binion just keeps clarifying that he is a dishonest hack partisan

      1. Maybe Clinton is a “Russian asset”? After all, she has been doing anything she can to destroy trust in our democracy and delegitimize our government. And Clinton has colluded with foreign governments to interfere in US elections.

        1. It’s different when a Clinton does it.

          Besides, Hillary is only a “Hillary asset”. Everyone else is just little people and deplorables.

  13. Hillary Clinton’s ‘Russian Asset’ Comment About Tulsi Gabbard Was Dumb, Not Defamatory

    I agree with Hillary that the comment was dumb but it is also defamatory! Just how many votes will Tulsi Gabbard will loose in this race and in the future races just because she said that Tulsi is a ‘Russian asset)?

  14. How are did you look for a pic of Tulsi with bad skin?

    1. Shes always had bad skin.

    2. I like to think it is because of those long months in Afghanistan. Bravely slogging through the wind whipped sand, the blazing sun and frigid nights. Trying desperately to rescue her wounded comrades under heavy fire.

      Don’t tell me otherwise I don’t want to hear it.

    3. Yeah, that pic was no accident.

  15. Gabbard is a Russian plant. Brexit was a Russian plot. And, of course, Russia stole the 2016 election from Hillary. IT WAS HER TURN!!!!!!!!!!

  16. I have to disagree. To be clear, there is only one statement, that Gabbard was being groomed by the Russians, that breaches the extremely high level necessary for this.

    It is clear. It was unambiguous. It presented a factual statement that was unquestionably false and with clear intent to cause damage to Gabbard’s campaign. Being labeled a traitor is certainly slander per-se, so there’s no need for Gabbard to prove damages.

    The only questions are if it was performed with “actual malice” (knowingly false), and if it can be considered rhetorical hyperbole or supposition.

    This statement is so eggregious that there is no reasonable way that she actually believed it. So, Clinton’s only defense against this is either that she is stupid, misinformed, or so obviously lying that no one would believe her. I don’t think any of these defenses are viable.

    Slippery slope isn’t applicable here due to how extreme and specific this is. It wasn’t framed as opinion, a hypothetical, or a metaphor. It was also performed outside the absolute immunity of the halls of congress.

    Therefore, the real question is whether this is serious enough to be worth the court’s time. Gabbard certainly thinks so.

    1. Legally, Gabbard effectively can’t be defamed as a public figure.

      But the statement is certainly defamatory.

      1. It is possible to defame a public figure. It requires “actual malice”, which is notoriously hard to prove. Essentially, you need to prove that the person or newspaper knowingly lied.

        It’s an extremely high bar, but not an impossible one.

  17. Why are journalists today so freaking lazy? I’ve seen three different writers link to an hour-long podcast of Clinton and Plouffe in reference to this controversy, and not a single one has yet provided a time-stamp! Did you even listen to the podcast, or are you pretending like you did and trusting that no one will have the patience to listen to 60 minutes of unbearable blathering to fact check you?

  18. Gabbard is not a Russian agent. Clinton knows that. It’s defamatory. Very simple. No twisting required.

    1. When did Sec. Clinton label Rep. Gabbard a Russian agent?

      Other than that, great comment.

      1. Hey Cunt! She isn’t “Sec.” anymore, and this is the US — we don’t go in for titles of nobility.

        It’s “Hillary Clinton”, “Mx. Clinton” or “Her Hagness”. Drop the “Sec.” bullshit.

        1. It’s proper manners to refer to people by their highest rank after retirement

          Thus, Bill Clinton is still “President Clinton”
          Hillary Clinton is either “Secretary” or “Senator”
          Colin Powell is either “Secretary” or “General”

  19. Clinton makes weird conspiracy theorist insinuations against a specific candidate, but it is not defamatory ?

    Does Google have no contractual obligation to not deliberately manipulate the search results to suppress certain information? The notion that social networks are under no obligation to follow their own stated rules that is not actionable by tort is bizarre.

  20. How could such comments by Clinton possibly amount to defamation, which requires someone to circulate a “false statement of fact” with malice or negligence for the sake of harming another’s reputation?

    Is it a statement of fact? Is it false? Yes, and yes.

    Was the statement made with malice? Yes.

    Was it made for the sake of harming Gabbard’s reputation? Yes.

    Under US law, Clinton can get away with this because public figures like Gabbard essentially can’t be legally defamed. But it meets all the elements.

    In my view,

    Which tells us that your judgment is suspect, and so are your motives.

  21. Isn’t this the same person who deliberately circumvented using government servers and set up her own unsecured server in her home basement so that Russians and Chinese would be able to read her State Department communications?

    If the phrase “it takes one to know one” has any weight, she may be right for once.

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    1. “…Clinton’s comments amount to nothing more than silly, unfounded speculation”.

      Way to minimize what was yet another vicious attack by the Hag. “Oh, she’s just being silly!”

      If Binion crawled any further up Hillary’s ass he could brush her teeth for her. This site sucks these days.

  23. I respectfully disagree.

    verb (used with object), de·famed, de·fam·ing.
    to attack the good name or reputation of, as by uttering or publishing maliciously or falsely anything injurious; slander or libel; calumniate:

    And when did you stop beating your wife?

  24. In true “Republican talking points” fashion, she’s with Trump on “opening up those slander laws”. I guess she has been groomed!

  25. Didn’t Hillary also say Brexit is the work of Russians? It’s just Russians all the way down with her, isn’t it?

  26. ” It sounds less compatible with American society, and perhaps more suited to that of Russia.”

    What could be more American than suing someone who disagrees with you?

  27. “she’s also a Russian asset.”

    That’s Jill Stein. The ‘also’ is clearly Tulsi. So how did Billary not accuse her of being a Russian asset?

    1. “So how did Billary not accuse her of being a Russian asset?”

      Clinton also didn’t accuse Black Lives Matter activists of being Russian assets, either. Jill Stein and Black Lives Matter aren’t running for the Democratic candidacy.

  28. You people are stupid. The entire point is simply to generate outrage and grab media attention. Have you learned nothing from 4 years of Trump? Apparently at least someone is paying attention.

  29. “How could such comments by Clinton possibly amount to defamation, which requires someone to circulate a “false statement of fact” with malice or negligence for the sake of harming another’s reputation?”

    That pretty much sums up Clinton’s career.

  30. If she were a person of integrity, someone whose opinion mattered, it would most certainly be defamatory. As it is, though this comment is just another rambling slur of words from a drunken old hag, washed up and useless.

    1. Now don’t be so harsh on her. She just needs a hobby. Maybe making knitted scarves she could sell on Etsy. Or hats “Hats by Hillary”.

      1. Trying to imagine what a hat would look like made out of human skin. ’cause that seems like the kind of hobby she’d go for.

  31. Ok now I like Tulsi even more. Russian asset. So she is like one of Bond chicks now. Woof.

  32. This article was dumb.

    The statement was defamatory, under any definition of the word that you care to use.

  33. Why an “Asian” asset, specifically? That’s got to be at least a little racist, too…

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