Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday responded to a report in the Washington Post stating U.S. officials had warned the Vermont senator that Russia was attempting to aid his presidential campaign as part of a larger effort to sow discord in the Democratic contest.
“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president, I will make sure you do.”
Sanders, who’s taken flack in recent days over the crude rhetoric and harassment attributed to some of his supporters online, went on to suggest that Russian trolls may be to blame, echoing a sentiment he raised during Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.
“In 2016, Russia used internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters,” he said.
The Post’s report did not describe the kind of interference Moscow is allegedly engaged in—nor the intelligence community’s confidence in its assessment—which the paper said had been shared with President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Most of the Russian efforts that the intelligence community claimed took place to interfere in the 2016 election were focused on social media campaigns and spreading memes.
Sanders spokesman Mike Casca, responding to questions on Twitter about why Sanders didn’t disclose the alleged interference publicly, said the intelligence briefing received by the candidate was classified.
Intelligence officials reportedly warned House lawmakers last week that Moscow was actively meddling in the election, according to the New York Times. Multiple reports say that the disclosure left Trump irate and complaining that Democrats would attempt to use the knowledge against him. On Wednesday, Trump announced that he had replaced his acting Director of National Intelligence with a fresh face.
Trump appeared to confirm reports that he was angry about the briefing on Friday when he tweeted that the information delivered to members of Congress by his own intelligence officials is part of a “misinformation campaign” designed by the “Do Nothing Democrat [sic] candidates.”
Former White House officials told Post reporters as recently as last year that Trump had dismissed concerns about foreign election interference during a 2017 meeting with two senior Russian officials in the Oval Office. He reportedly went on to blame the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship on the American press, whom he’s repeatedly labeled “the enemy of the people.”
“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia,” Sanders said. “Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.”