CNN Panel Indulges Conspiracy Theory About Gabbard Running as Russian-Backed Third Party Candidate

August 2nd, 2019 6:50 PM

During CNN Right Now Thursday, host Brianna Keilar and her panel analyzed the CNN Democratic debates. While the conversation included the typical analysis associated with cable news programs, one of the panelists brought up a conspiracy theory about one of the Democratic candidates, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, running as a Russian-backed third-party candidate.

The segment began with a discussion about the feud between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama’s former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro over immigration policy. In addition to praising Biden’s performance, panelist A.B. Stoddard accused President Trump of lying by claiming that he “got those cages from Obama” and agreed with Democratic Senator Chris Coons’s description of the family separation policy as “government-sponsored child abuse.” A report from Business Insider proves that the Obama administration did, in fact, put illegal immigrant children in cages; meaning that President Trump was not “lying” about it like Stoddard claimed.

CNN Contributor Wajahat Ali appeared to disagree with Stoddard’s analysis, expressing his wish that “Biden did not have such a mediocre, low bar and could actually rise to the high bar.” After claiming that Biden should have attacked President Trump harder and whining about “the humanitarian crisis created by Donald Trump,” Ali actually tried to make the case that “the Democrats, compared to Trump, are moderate” on immigration. Apparently, Ali did not pay attention to the part of the debate where Julian Castro called for “decriminalizing” illegal border crossings; an idea that certainly does not meet the definition of “moderate.”



Keilar asked the panel to weigh in on “one of the more contentious moments from the debate last night” when “Tulsi Gabbard ripped into Senator Kamala Harris on her record as Attorney General in California.” While panelist A.B. Stoddard admitted that Harris “should have been ready for that,” she also complained that the moderators did not ask Gabbard about her “relationship with Assad.” Stoddard proceeded to indulge a bizarre conspiracy theory that’s “all over the internet” suggesting that “the Russian bots are helping Tulsi Gabbard in going after Kamala Harris and that Tulsi Gabbard refuses to condemn Assad because she’s doing the work of the Russians and is going to run as a third-party spoiler and re-elect Trump.”

Ali did not directly address the conspiracy theory directly but he continued to pile on Gabbard, calling her a “terrible candidate” and taking issue with “the fact that MAGA seems to love her.” Ali quipped “I wonder why,” likely giving credence to the conspiracy theory. In spite of this CNN panel’s apparent problems with Gabbard, the Hawaii Congresswoman was the most searched candidate on Google following the debate.



While the Mueller investigation has come to a close, it looks like CNN just cannot let the Russia conspiracy theories go. It appears as if “the most trusted name in news” has sacrificed its reputation in an effort to reestablish itself as the “Conspiracy News Network.”


A transcript of the relevant portion of Thursday’s edition of CNN Right Now is below. Click “expand” to read more.


CNN Right Now With Brianna Keilar


01:24 PM

BRIANNA KEILAR: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro went after Joe Biden’s record last night, despite the fact that they both worked for the Obama administration. Castro pointed out a stark difference between himself and the former Vice President, especially on immigration.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t. Let me begin by telling you…we have 654 miles of fencing. We have thousands of personnel at the border. We have planes, we have…

DON LEMON: Mr. Secretary…

CASTRO: …boats, we have helicopters, we have security cameras.

LEMON: Secretary Castro, thank you.

CASTRO: What we need are politicians that actually…

LEMON: Your time is up.

CASTRO: … have some guts on this issue.

BIDEN: Julian…excuse me, the Secretary, we sat together in many meetings. I never heard him talk about any of this when he was the Secretary.


KEILAR: All right, joining me now, A.B. Stoddard and Wajahat Ali. Okay, let’s talk about this because Senator Coons, who is…has endorsed Biden, was just on and he…he clearly would have liked to hear something different from Biden. He said he would have liked to have heard him saying the Obama administration prioritized people with criminal records and the Trump administration put in place this policy of zero tolerance with…which led to all of these…this flood of family separations. We didn’t hear that from Joe Biden. And Julian Castro is criticizing also this administration that he was part of. What did you guys think about this exchange and which approach is better?

WAJAHAT ALI: Go first.

A.B. STODDARD: Well, I thought the…one of the things that Joe Biden did right last night, and he needs a crisper answer on immigration, very important, and he needs to speak to the center of the electorate on immigration, which he was trying to do. The deportations were within the laws that they were dealing with at the time and the former President tried to reform immigration laws and he couldn’t work with the Congress. He came up with the Dreamer Act. But on what you’re talking about, which is child separation, yes, he needs to be very clear. President Trump lied about it again last night saying that, oh, I got those cages from Obama and I…

ALI: In 2015.

STODDARD: …and I’ve stopped the, the separations. There have been 900 children separated from their parents since he “stopped” the separations. They haven’t been stopped. Just as Senator Coons said, they are, a…an intentional deterrent and it’s government-sponsored child abuse. So the, the, the, the former Vice President needs a more crisp answer on that. However, I thought the fact that he did not rudely sort of push back against Julian Castro and took the high road on it and said, I just don’t remember him bringing these things up in the meetings and…and the fact that Julian Castro would…would go there and, and, and push back on the ad…the Obama administration so hard, as well as, as others in the…on the debate stage I thought was really a mistake. The Democratic Party is very upset about it today. And, obviously, a boon to, to the Vice President, who’s going to talk today, as he already has, about how he just has no idea why his fellow candidates in the race are dumping on President Obama.

ALI: Oh, how I wish Biden did not have such a mediocre, low bar and could actually rise to the high bar, because if…what he could have done and should have done, I think, is, first and foremost, always attack Trump, number one. Look at this humanitarian crisis created by Donald Trump, the zero-tolerance policy. At least the Democrats, compared to Trump, are moderate. Compared to Obama, at least Obama did DACA. He was actually for the dreamers, right? Senate failed, so Obama said, I’m going to do executive action, try to give this temporary protected status to dreamers. America is actually pro-dreamers. No one brought up the dreamers last night, right? Then you say, and this is where I actually am…am going to pivot here, there is a contingency within the Democratic electorate, and also voters who want actual immigration reform, who say that Obama didn’t go far enough. So, you can protect Obama’s legacy, compare and contrast it to Trump but say, we need to go further. And that’s where I think if you make that pivot, Castro and anyone else could be like, this is why I believe we should decriminalize. It has caused so many problems. And we need to go forward. Obama had his hands tied. He did what he could do. He could do better.

KEILAR: That’s…and that’s basically what Senator Coons was saying, he would have wanted to hear more of that. I think he represents what a number of Democrats who…especially who support Joe Biden would want to hear. One of the more contentious moments from the debate last night came when Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard ripped into Senator Kamala Harris on her record as Attorney General and District Attorney in California. But the jabs continued even after the debate, and this time it was over Gabbard’s meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, Assad, who has murdered the people of his…of his country like cockroaches, she who has embraced and been an apologist for him in a way that she refuses to call him a war criminal. I…I can only take what she says in her opinion so seriously.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will never apologize for doing all that I can to prevent more of my brothers and sisters from being sent into harm’s way, to fight counterproductive regime change wars that make our country less safe, that take more lives and that cost taxpayers trillions more dollars. So, if that means meeting with a dictator or meeting with an adversary, absolutely, I would do it.

ANDERSON COOPER: Bashar al Assad is a murderer and a torturer. Do you not agree with that? Do you…

GABBARD: I don’t dispute that.


KEILAR: She’s been criticized for not having sort of a full-throated condemnation of that, however. But again, here we have a moment that we didn’t see on the debate stage, that might have been more effective on the debate stage.

STODDARD: Kamala Harris should have been ready for that.

ALI: That’s right.

STODDARD: There’s been a long-standing criticism, criticism of her record aside from Tulsi Gabbard. So, she needed to be ready to defend her record on prosecutions of what other liberals believe are petty crimes. That’s the first thing.

KEILAR: But maybe she didn’t think it would come from Gabbard…

STODDARD: She, she…

KEILAR: …and so she wasn’t armed.

STODDARD: Right. So, she wasn’t. She was surprised, and I think…

ALI: She should not have been surprised.

STODDARD: …it knocked the wind out of her. But she should have been ready…

ALI: She should have been ready.

STODDARD: …for it to come from somebody, number one and number two, she should have been ready with her response about Assad. People were hoping that the moderators were going to ask about Tulsi Gabbard’s relationship with Assad. And it is all over the internet today that the Russian bots are helping Tulsi Gabbard in going after Kamala Harris and that Tulsi Gabbard refuses to condemn Assad because she’s doing the work of the Russians and is going to run as a third-party spoiler and reelect Trump. There are…there are serious knives out for Tulsi Gabbard. She didn’t take anything last night.

ALI: Yeah. And it was a huge mistake because you can simultaneously hold these two positions at the same time. Tulsi Gabbard exposed Kamala Harris’s troubling record as a prosecutor, which is very troubling to progressive voters. She did that, she was exposed. And that’s going to make her vulnerable. At the same time, you can say that Tulsi Gabbard is a terrible candidate because of her promotion of Assad’s talking points because she met Assad in secret, because to this day she has not called him out as a war criminal. It took Anderson three tries and the most she could get is, “I don’t dispute that.” In addition to the fact she’s conflicted about torture, in addition to the fact that she, you know, works with Hindu nationalists, in addition to the fact that MAGA seems to love her. I wonder why. And so that moment where Kamala Harris was after the fact talking to Anderson and took out Tulsi Gabbard, that should have been done on the debate stage. And if Gabbard is ever brought back on the debate stage again, this needs to be addressed. And you have to ask her, are you capable of actually critiquing Assad? And if you’re so anti-war, how come you praise Russia’s bombing of Syria, Tulsi?

KEILAR: There you go, there’s the question. Wajahat, A.B., thank you so much to both of you.