Accused Russian agent Elena Branson donated to Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 presidential campaign, records show

Former presidential candidate has recently been criticised for repeating Russian lines about the Ukrainian conflict

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 11 March 2022 10:11 EST

Tulsi Gabbard drops out of 2020 presidential race

A dual US-Russian citizen accused of spying on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s government previously donated to Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign, it has emerged.

As reported by the Daily Beast, Elena Branson, aka Elena Chernykh, is listed on FEC donations records as a donor to Ms Gabbard’s campaign, sending her two separate contributions via progressive fundraising organisation ActBlue in February and June 2019.

At the time, Ms Gabbard – then a US Congresswoman representing Hawaii’s 2nd district – was running for president in a crowded Democratic field.

A military veteran, she staked out a position as an anti-war left-winger and made headlines with a direct debate-stage attack on Kamala Harris, tearing into her fellow candidate for her criminal justice record.

During the 2020 campaign, the maverick candidate’s style attracted a small following among some outside the Democratic mainstream, but she never built up a substantial base of support.

She nonetheless stayed in the race far longer than most of the other contenders, attracting speculation that she could be gearing up to run as a disruptive third-party candidate in the mould of the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

Federal prosecutors allege Elena Branson, pictured in 2019, illegally acted as a Russian government agent in the US over the last decade

In October 2019, none other than Hillary Clinton mentioned that one of the Democratic candidates was potentially being “groomed” as a Russian asset in an attempt to derail the election in Donald Trump’s favour. Her comments were widely interpreted as referring to Ms Gabbard, who tried to sue Ms Clinton for $50m over the remarks. She ultimately dropped the case after a few months.

Since her exit from Democratic Party politics, Ms Gabbard has increasingly built up an audience on the right, speaking at this year’s CPAC conference and appearing on Fox News to rail against “cancel culture” and claim that the American “war machine” is deliberately trying to “turn Ukraine into another Afghanistan”.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Ms Gabbard has attracted controversy with statements that seemed to endorse Russia’s stated explanation for the conflict – in particular a tweet in which she wrote that “This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admin/NATO had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO, which would mean US/NATO forces right on Russia’s border.”

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