Hillary Clinton waded into the Democratic primary on Friday by suggesting that Russia was “grooming” Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii as a third-party candidate for president.
In response, Ms. Gabbard lashed out late in the afternoon with an extraordinary series of tweets in which she called Mrs. Clinton “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.”
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Twitter, he mocked Ms. Gabbard by referencing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom Ms. Gabbard has defended.
Ms. Gabbard is averaging less than 1 percent in the polls but qualified for this week’s Democratic debate, where she promoted her noninterventionist foreign policy platform and attacked the news media for what she said was bias against her.
Mrs. Clinton made her initial allegation on a podcast hosted by David Plouffe, a former aide to President Barack Obama.
“I’m not making any predictions,” she said, “but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”
She did not name Ms. Gabbard in that interview, but her target was clear. Asked to confirm that Mrs. Clinton had been referring to Ms. Gabbard, Mr. Merrill told NBC News, “If the nesting doll fits. …”
Disinformation experts have noted frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard by RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, and apparent Twitter bot activity amplifying pro-Gabbard messages and hashtags.