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Democrat presidential hopeful trades barbs with Hillary Clinton over Russian meddling allegations

In a series of tweets Friday, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard called 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long."

Tulsi Gabbard says claims of her being a Russian asset are 'completely despicable'

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Westerville, Ohio, on Tuesday. She called reports that Russian Twitter bots are supporting her campaign 'completely despicable.' (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

It's Hillary Clinton vs. Tulsi Gabbard on the sidelines of the 2020 presidential race.

The Hawaii congresswoman, who is running to be the Democratic presidential candidate, fought back after Clinton appeared to call her "the favourite of the Russians" in a recent interview. Clinton said she believes the Russians have "got their eye on somebody who's currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate" without mentioning Gabbard by name. 

In a series of tweets Friday, Gabbard called Clinton the "personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long." Gabbard also alleged there has been a "concerted campaign" to destroy her reputation since she announced her presidential run in January.

"It's now clear that this primary is between you and me," Gabbard tweeted about Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state who was a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, but is not now running. "Don't cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly."

There is lingering trepidation in the Democratic Party of a repeat of the 2016 presidential race, when Russia interfered in the U.S. election in an effort to help Donald Trump defeat Clinton. U.S intelligence agencies have warned that Russia intends to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has mocked that possibility, joking earlier this month that Moscow would "definitely intervene" again.

Clinton made her remarks after moments in Gabbard's campaign were reportedly amplified by trolls and bots on Twitter with ties to Russia.

Gabbard has denied she is being used by Russia. "The New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears," Gabbard said, referring to such reports as "completely despicable."

During a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, Gabbard criticized a TV commentator who she said had called her "an asset of Russia." 

'She's the favourite of the Russians'

Without naming Gabbard, Clinton seemed to echo the commentator's remark during a podcast appearance this week on Campaign HQ with David Plouffe. Plouffe was campaign manager for Barack Obama in 2008 and served as a senior adviser to the president.

"She's the favourite of the Russians," Clinton said, referring to the person she had earlier identified as a woman "who's currently in the Democratic primary."

"They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far."

Hillary Clinton speaks during a lecture on foreign policy in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 10. Her remarks are stoking fears of Russian meddling in the Democratic presidential campaign. (Jacob Hamilton/Ann Arbor News via AP)

Clinton also called Trump "Vladimir Putin's dream" in the interview. She went on to say that Trump's inauguration speech was "like a declaration of war on half of America." Clinton also describes 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein as "a Russian asset."

The Russians know they can't win without a third-party candidate, Clinton added, suggesting that Russia is seeking candidates to split the progressive vote and have Trump remain in office.

Gabbard said later Friday on CBSN that she "will not be leaving the Democratic Party. I will not be running as an independent or a third-party candidate."

Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein waits to speak at a board of elections meeting in Philadelphia on Oct. 2. There are allegations she split the vote in 2016, allowing Trump to win the election. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Stein, who ran against Trump and Clinton as a Green Party candidate, received about 1 per cent of the vote in the 2016 election, but some Democrats said her candidacy syphoned votes away from Clinton and helped Trump win, particularly in states like Wisconsin. The Senate intelligence committee asked Stein for documents as part of its probe into Russian interference in the election because she attended a 2015 dinner in Moscow with Putin sponsored by Russian television network RT. Stein has said she attended "with a message of Middle East peace, diplomacy and co-operation."

In a tweet Friday, Stein accused Clinton of "peddling conspiracy theories to justify her failure instead of reflecting on real reasons Dems lost in 2016."

Clinton email probe completed

The U.S. State Department said it completed its internal investigation into Clinton's former use of private email and found violations by 38 people, some of whom may face disciplinary action.

The investigation, launched more than three years ago, determined that those 38 people were "culpable" in 91 cases of sending classified information that ended up in Clinton's personal email, according to a letter sent to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley this week and released Friday. The 38 are current and former State Department officials but were not identified.

Although the report identified violations, it said investigators had found "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information." However, it also made clear that Clinton's use of the private email had increased the vulnerability of classified information.

The Associated Press sent an email seeking comment to a Clinton representative.

Watch: Clinton addresses emails after Comey comments in 2016

FBI is investigating whether there is classified information in new emails that have emerged in its probe of Clinton's private server 3:44

The investigation covered 33,000 emails that Clinton turned over for review after her use of the private email account became public. The department said it found a total of 588 violations involving information then or now deemed to be classified but could not assign fault in 497 cases.

The department began the review in 2016 after declaring 22 emails from Clinton's private server to be "top secret." Clinton was then running for president against Donald Trump, and Trump made the server a major focus of his campaign.

Then-FBI Director James Comey held a news conference that year in which he criticized Clinton as "extremely careless" in her use of the private email server as secretary of state but said the FBI would not recommend charges.