US officials have told Bernie Sanders that Russia is trying to help his campaign, prompting the frontrunner in the Democratic race to strongly condemn any interference.
Republican Donald Trump and US lawmakers have also been informed about the Russian assistance to Sanders, said a report in the Washington Post, which cited unnamed people familiar with the matter and first broke the news.
It was not clear what form the Russian assistance had taken, the paper added.
Facebook said it had seen no evidence of Russian support for Sanders on its platform.
However, the Vermont senator denounced the reported efforts by Moscow to interfere with the 2020 election on his behalf.
“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia,” Sanders said of the Russian president.
“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.”
Sanders also suggested some of the online vitriol frequently blamed on his supporters may be coming from Russia. “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters,” Sanders said.
The news follows similar warnings from the intelligence community that Russia has also sought to boost Trump’s re-election campaign. On Friday Trump sought to play down those developments and revive old grievances in claiming that Democrats are determined to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
Trump claimed on Twitter that Democrats were pushing a “misinformation campaign” in hopes of politically damaging him.
Intelligence officials told lawmakers in a classified briefing last week that Russia is meddling in the election with the hope of getting Trump re-elected, according to officials familiar with the briefing.
The fresh intelligence warnings about Russian interference came in what has been a tumultuous stretch for the intelligence community.
A day after the 13 February briefing to the House intelligence committee, Trump berated the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in a meeting at the White House. Then this week, Trump abruptly announced that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who also will hold the job in an acting capacity.