Donald Trump
© Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Donald Trump doubled down on his defense of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) on Monday after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest that the Democratic presidential candidate is an asset that the Russians are "grooming" in preparation of the 2020 election.

"Hillary Clinton, I don't know if you've heard of her, she's the one accusing everybody of being a Russian agent," Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting. "Anybody that is opposed to her is a Russian agent — that's a scam that was pretty much put down."

"I don't know Tulsi, but she's not a Russian agent," he continued. "I don't know Jill Stein. I know she likes the environment. I don't think she likes Russians. If she does like them, I know she's not an asset — [Clinton] called her an asset of Russia. These people are sick. There's something wrong with them."

While speaking with President Barack Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, during an appearance on his podcast "Campaign HQ," Clinton contended that the Russians "have got their eye on someone who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate."

"That's assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she's also a Russian asset. Yeah, she's a Russian asset, I mean, totally," she told Plouffe. "They know they can't win without a third-party candidate. So I don't know who it's going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed."

Although Clinton initially refrained from revealing to whom she was talking about, her spokesman Nick Merrill later confirmed that it was, in fact, Gabbard. When asked if Clinton was referring to Gabbard, Merrill replied, "if the nesting doll fits."

Gabbard swiftly fired back at the twice failed presidential candidate, calling her the "queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party." She subsequently accused Clinton of launching a "concerted campaign" to smear the Hawaii congresswoman's reputation and further challenged her to jump into the 2020 race for a third time.

"So now Crooked Hillary is at it again! She is calling Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard 'a Russian favorite,' and Jill Stein 'a Russian asset,'" Trump tweeted on Saturday. "As you may have heard, I was called a big Russia lover also (actually, I do like Russian people. I like all people!). Hillary's gone Crazy!"

The president has been embroiled in Democrat-led allegations of having close ties to the Russian Kremlin since before he even took office. Special counsel Robert Mueller kicked off a years-long investigation that ultimately found that Trump's 2016 presidential campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

"I think that Tulsi Gabbard probably got helped quite a bit by this there. I think we were helped because it shows for two and a half years, we end up winning," Trump said on Monday. "I had to go through two and a half years — if she would have done this earlier people would have realized what a scam it is. Everybody is a Russian, or a Russian agent, or a Russian asset."