WASHINGTON – U.S. officials have reportedly told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign, a revelation that follows U.S. intelligence officials briefing Capitol Hill that the Kremlin may also be attempting to help President Donald Trump in 2020 as they did in 2016.
Sanders in a statement disavowed any alleged assistance from Russia President Vladimir Putin.
"I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."
The warning about the Russia effort to help Sanders, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was also information given to Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
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Sanders acknowledged he was briefed "about a month ago" about Russia's efforts, telling reporters Friday that he was "told Russia and other countries" were interfering in the elections.
"It was not clear what role they were going to play," he explained. "We were told that Russia and maybe other countries were going to get involved in this campaign."
When asked why this news was just coming out after he was briefed a month ago, Sanders said, "I'll let you guess, one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out? It was the Washington Post? Good friends," he said with a wink.
WATCH: Sanders addresses Washington Post report that Russia is trying to help his campaign, says he was briefed about it “a month ago.” #MTPDaily@BernieSanders: "What I say to Mr. Putin, If elected president, trust me, you will not be interfering in American elections.” pic.twitter.com/KXeuXADpWK
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) February 21, 2020
Trump made mention of the Russia effort at a rally in Las Vegas Friday, casting doubt on the findings of his intelligence community that Russia was indeed working to help his campaign by saying it was just a Democratic-led effort to hurt him. He also mentioned Sanders specifically.
"I was told that was happening, I was told a week ago. They said, you know, they're trying to start a rumor. It's disinformation. That's the only thing they're good at, they're not good at anything else, they get nothing done. Do-nothing Democrats," Trump said.
He continued: "That Putin wants to make sure I get elected, listen to this. Doesn't he want to see who the Democrat is going to be? Wouldn't he rather have, let's say, Bernie? Wouldn't he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?"
'Propaganda to sow division'
In his statement, Sanders also pointed to some of the controversial comments made by some of his die-hard online fans who have been linked to inflammatory comments on social media.
"In 2016, Russia used internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020," Sanders said in the statement. "Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters."
Sanders was criticized last week after some of his supporters reportedly threatened members of Nevada's Culinary Workers Union for criticizing the senator's' Medicare for All plan.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said that Sanders "has a lot of questions to answer" about the attacks on union leaders while former Vice President Joe Biden said the Vermont senator and current frontrunner in the nomination contest has to take accountability for the "misogynistic" attacks.
When asked about the issue at a CNN town hall Monday, Sanders said he is "totally against online bullying and harassment."
“I will condemn absolutely anybody, including my campaign or any other campaign, that makes vicious personal attacks against people,” he said. “I don’t tolerate ugly attacks against anybody.”
In 2016, Russia waged an elaborate and sophisticated operation to sow division in the U.S. and upend the presidential election by using cyberattacks and social media as weapons.
The interference led to a nearly two-year investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who concluded that Trump's campaign welcomed, even praised, the assistance from Russia. But while he said investigators did not gather sufficient evidence to prove a conspiracy, "problematic is an understatement" to describe some of Trump's conduct.
Since then, intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that the country would likely try to do the same in the 2020 election.
Contributing: Ledge King, Savannah Behrmann and David Jackson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bernie Sanders told Russia helping presidential campaign