Sanders on Friday called the interference an “ugly thing” that is attempting to “divide us up.”
“That’s what they did in 2016. That is the ugliest thing they’re doing, is they are trying to cause chaos, trying to cause hatred in America,” Sanders told reporters. “It is an ugly business, and all of us have got to say, ‘Sorry, you are not going to do this in this election.’”
The blast from Sanders comes just days after The New York Times reported that the House Intelligence Committee received a Feb. 13 briefing that Russia has plans to interfere in this year’s elections, including the Democratic race, and that it favored Trump. Trump lashed out at acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire over the briefing, the report says, suggesting Democrats would use this against Trump during his reelection campaign.
Trump dismissed those reports in a tweet as “another misinformation campaign” by Democrats, and claimed later that unspecified individuals had been spreading rumors on the matter.
“I was told it was happening, I was told a week ago,” he said at a rally on Friday. Later Friday, Trump suggested on Twitter that Democrats were using the Russia briefing to tar Sanders.
Hillary Clinton, who has been vocal about Russia’s interference in 2016, weighed in on the controversy Friday, calling Trump “Putin’s Puppet.”
“Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself,” Clinton tweeted. “He knows he can’t win without it. And we can’t let it happen.”
Trump’s campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, shared the Post article on Twitter and said, “We condemn and reject foreign interference in American elections in any form.”
Sanders on Friday also denounced Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and suggested that some of the reports about inappropriate online behavior from his supporters, known as “Bernie Bros,” might not be his “real supporters.”
“In 2016, Russia used internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020,” the statement said. “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”
As Sanders walked away from reporters during Friday’s gaggle, he was asked why the report is coming out now if he was briefed a month ago. The Vermont senator turned the question back to reporters with a cryptic response.
“I’ll let you guess about, one day before the Nevada Caucus. Why do you think it came out?” Sanders said. “It was The Washington Post. Good friends.”
Meanwhile, Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner brought up the news at a canvass launch with nursing union members in Las Vegas, saying people are “trying to spin this.”
“We’re not going to let them taint this victory we’re about to have,” Turner said, or “delegitimize the people’s will.”
Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.