Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has responded to recent reports about Russia attempting to aid the Vermont senator in 2020 by suggesting the claim was leaked as part of a conspiracy against him concocted by Team Trump—specifically pointing the finger at President Trump’s new acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell.
In a Friday campaign email titled “Facts to Remember on Russian Interference Briefing,” Mike Casca—the campaign’s communications director—lays out an argument questioning the timing of the Moscow meddling report.
The email first skeptically notes that the briefing given to Sanders’ campaign warning of Russian meddling was “classified,” before pointing to Sanders’ past warnings that “Trump would use the federal government to help his reelection.” (Sanders himself confirmed to reporters Friday that his campaign had been informed of Moscow’s attempted interference about a month ago, but he said it was not clear how exactly the country was trying to help him.)
Casca then appears to suggest that it’s no coincidence reports about Russia seeking to boost Sanders came out immediately after Trump tapped Richard Grenell to serve as his new acting intel chief.
Citing a 2018 speech by Sanders, the email notes that Sanders had “called out” Grenell for exposing the Trump “administration’s support for right-wing extremist parties across Europe” while warning about the rise of authoritarianism.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Maura Beard, said the campaign’s claims were wrong.
“This reporting started with information shared publicly prior to Amb. Grenell assuming his new position as Acting Director of National Intelligence,” Beard said in a statement. “Any insinuation that Acting Director of National Intelligence Grenell or ODNI leaked information regarding political candidates is categorically false.”
Grenell was tapped to be the acting director of national intelligence after Trump grew outraged that Joseph Maguire, who previously held the role, had allowed one of his staffers to brief lawmakers on Moscow seeking to aid Trump in the 2020 race.
Reports of intelligence indicating the same thing for Sanders’ campaign came out a day after those pertaining to Trump.
Trump and lawmakers were also alerted to Russia’s reported bid to assist the Democratic frontrunner.
Earlier Friday, Casca tweeted that the story was “designed to hurt bernie” and was conveniently timed. “It’s very clear trump is nervous about facing him in the general election,” Casca wrote.
Trump and his allies—who themselves have long sought to dispel warnings about Russian meddling by claiming a conspiracy is afoot—immediately seized on the news.
“Putin wants to make sure I get elected. So, doesn’t he want to see who the Democrat is gonna be? Wouldn’t he rather have, let’s say, Bernie? Wouldn’t he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?” Trump told supporters at a rally in Las Vegas on Friday.
Donald Trump Jr. also gloated over the news on Twitter.
“Well he is a communist... also, after Trump put the toughest sanctions in recent history in them it’s much more believable that they would want America to suffer the Bern! Russia trying to help Bernie’s campaign, according to briefing from U.S. officials,” he tweeted.
The Vermont senator, meanwhile, appeared to do his best to counter the notion that he and Trump are in the same boat when it comes to the Kremlin.
“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend,” Sanders said in a statement. “He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. 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.”