Feb. 21-- WASHINGTON-Bernie Sanders warned Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday to stay out of U.S. elections as he confirmed that American intelligence officials had briefed him on Russian efforts to help his presidential campaign.
"Mr. Putin is a thug. He is an autocrat. He may be a friend of Donald Trump-he's not a friend of mine," Sanders told reporters in Bakersfield, Calif. "Let me tell Mr. Putin: The American people, whether you're Republicans, Democrats, independents, are sick and tired of seeing Russia and other countries interfering in our elections."
Sanders, who's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said that he received the intelligence briefing about a month ago. But it didn't become public until a Washington Post report earlier Friday that said President Donald Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill had also been informed of the Russian involvement.
In a briefing to House lawmakers last week, intelligence officials said that Russia was intervening in the 2020 election to help Trump get reelected.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump's reelection campaign, said in a tweet, "We condemn and reject foreign interference in American elections in any form."
Former Vice President Joe Biden's Democratic campaign jumped on the developments to suggest he's the least favorite candidate of the Russians and Trump. "We know who Vladimir Putin doesn't want to be president," spokesman Andrew Bates said, "and we know who Donald Trump doesn't want to be the nominee."
Elizabeth Warren said the disclosure showed the need for transparency, seemingly rebuking Sanders for waiting a month before making the meeting public.
"This is about disinformation and the way to fight disinformation is to call it out, show what it is, and give everyone full information as quickly as possible," she told reporters in Las Vegas. "Otherwise, the Russians continue to have too much influence over our campaign and this is how we fight against that."
It isn't clear how the Russians may be trying to intervene in the current presidential campaign, but at a Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sanders hinted that abusive behavior attributed to some of his followers may have been the work of foreign elements trying to sow division.
"All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our elections and divide us up," Sanders said. "I'm not saying that's happening, but it would not shock me."
Investigations during and after the 2016 campaign found that Russia tried to intervene in support of Trump through social media campaigns and other actions. Prosecutors also said some of the actions were designed to "support Bernie Sanders" against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
At a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Friday, Trump said Democrats were promulgating "a rumor" that Russia sought his reelection.
"Doesn't he want to see who the Democrat's going to be? Doesn't he want to see Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?" Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. "These people are crazy."
Sanders has said he has visited Moscow but didn't honeymoon there.
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
(Jennifer Epstein, Josh Wingrove and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou contributed to this report.)
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