US Senator Bernie Sanders has warned Russia not to meddle in the 2020 US White House elections, after reports emerged that US officials had informed the Democratic primary candidate that the Kremlin is trying to help his campaign.
"The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign, right now, in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me you are not going to be interfering in American elections," Sanders said, speaking with reporters in California.
The 78-year-old democratic socialist senator from Vermont is considered the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
An American newspaper on Friday reported that US officials had informed the senator, as well as President Donald Trump and US lawmakers, about Russian efforts to help the 2020 campaigns of both Sanders and Trump.
The paper said it was not clear in what way Russia had tried to assist their campaigns. According to a congressional source, intelligence officials said that Russia appears to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to help both politicians, though the investigation is still underway.
The Sanders campaign was briefed around a month ago.
"Here's the message to Russia," the senator said. "Stay out of American elections."
Trump dismisses 'rumors'
Trump, for his part, dismissed the reports of interference. At an election rally in Las Vegas on Friday, he spoke of a "rumor" that "Putin wants to make sure I get elected."
"Wouldn't he rather have, let's say, Bernie?" he said.
In 2018, federal investigators charged 13 Russians in a secret social media campaigndesigned to assist Sanders and Republican candidate Trump in the 2016 election and hurt the chances of eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Kremlin on Friday rejected the fresh allegations.
"These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the election," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said to reporters. "They have nothing to do with the truth."
A cloud over Nevada's caucuses
Fellow Democratic rivals Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden said they had not received such briefings nor information that Russia was supporting their campaigns.
Sanders suggested the possibility of a political motive behind the timing of revelations reported by a newspaper.
"One day before the Nevada caucus, why do you think it came out?" he said in California.
The 2020 Nevada state caucuses are taking place on Saturday, where Sanders is favored to win.