Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election because he used to fear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the “most,” Representative Nancy Pelosi said.
Speaking at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) on Monday, Pelosi, the California congresswoman and former House speaker, joined Clinton to speak about global politics and national security. Clinton, who served as secretary of state under the administration of former President Barack Obama, became a professor of practice at SIPA in January.
When asked by Clinton on what she views are “the biggest threats and challenges facing our democracy,” Pelosi first took the time to thank her counterpart for her previous political service.
“It was her clarity and position to [Putin] that made him turn around and ensure in an illegal way come out against her in her campaign,” Pelosi said. “Interference in our democracy by Vladimir Putin, because Hillary Clinton was the person he feared most in terms of his lack of democracy in Russia.”
Following the 2016 presidential race, U.S. intelligence found that Putin had ordered an interference campaign to meddle in the election and hurt Clinton’s bid against former President Donald Trump. Russia’s cyberattacks included hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s server to obtain emails and documents in hopes of generating negative publicity against Democratic officials like Clinton.
Some experts have since theorized that the interference could have been driven by a long-term grudge against Clinton. During her time at the State Department, Clinton had publicly criticized Russia’s 2011 vote in which Putin was reelected, claiming that the process was “neither free nor fair.” According to a report from Politico in 2016, Putin blamed the protests that erupted in Moscow following Russia’s election on Clinton’s attacks, saying at the time that demonstrators had “the support of the U.S. State Department” to undermine his presidency.
A clip of Pelosi’s comments on Monday was posted on Twitter by RNC Research, an account managed by the Republican National Committee. The video directed users to a link on the committee’s website that included examples of times that Democratic officials questioned the results of the election.
Trump, who beat Clinton in 2016, has repeatedly cast doubt on claims that Putin interfered in the election. In 2018, the former president told Reuters that he had “great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump continued. “I will say this—I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Dan Coats, Trump’s former director of national intelligence, previously supported the claim that Russia played a role in the 2016 election. Prior to taking office, Coats had pledged to support investigations into Russia’s influence, saying that it was “something I look upon with great concern.”
Trump had also asked Coats, alongside former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to deny that there was any connection between his campaign and Russia’s interference following the investigation, but the former intelligence director dismissed the request.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.