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Elizabeth Warren Refuses to Elaborate After Accusing Sanders of Sexism

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday night that she has “no interest in discussing this private meeting any further,” but after making an explosive charge against her 2020 Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders that stated desire is clearly not going to matter very much—and critics of how Warren levied the accusation suggested that could likely be the point.

In a statement issued by her campaign’s communication manager Kristen Orthman, Warren claimed that in a private 2018 conversation Sanders “disagreed” with her that a woman candidate could beat President Donald Trump in the 2020 general election—a difference of opinion she characterized as having something to do with “punditry.”

What Sanders was alleged to have said in the 2018 conversation was first made by anonymous sources “familiar with” the meeting in a report earlier Monday by CNN—a piece of journalism pilloried by critics as an irresponsible hit job. In response to the claims in the story, Sanders said it was “ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win.”

Warren offered a different version. In her statement about their private discussion, she said the two discussed “the 2020 election, our past work together, and our shared goals: beating Donald Trump, taking back our government from the wealthy and well-connected, and building an economy that works for everyone.”

Among the other topics that came up, Warren added, “was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” she said. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”

For longtime political observers of Sanders, Warren’s characterization of the private discussion seemed incompatible with how Sanders conducts himself and what he’s been saying publicly about women in general and female politicians in particular for decades:

Offering his perspective, the Washington Post‘s campaign reporter Dave Weigel responded to Warren’s statement by remarking, “There are Rashomon vibes to this Warren/Sanders meeting but it would be weird if a frank conversation didn’t get into mysogyny and how Trump would use it. Sanders’s statement hints at that. It’s just a ways from that to ‘a woman can’t win.’”

In a separate tweet, he added:

Other observers remained unconvinced Sanders would ever flatly assert that a woman could not be president, but gave Warren the benefit of the doubt and suggested that she, and now her campaign, possibly misinterpreted something said during that “frank conversation” about how Trump would deploy sexist and misogynistic attacks into a claim that Bernie himself made.

Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi pointed out: “There were only two people in that Sanders-Warren meeting. Outlets like CNN are saying the ‘revelation’ that Bernie didn’t believe a woman could win is sourced to four people, but the story is really entirely sourced to Warren.”

Some reporting, meanwhile, indicated a belief within the Sanders campaign that this was all coordinated in advance by Warren and her staff.

According to Steve Peoples, political reporter for the Associated Press: “A senior Bernie Sanders’ adviser tells me they believe that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign intentionally leaked a false description of their 2018 meeting. Says it’s a recent pattern of Warren attacking the Dem front-runner.”

Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercepttweeted that he asked Warren directly Monday night “if the leak from the Sanders meeting was intentional, and she said that it was not.” Regardless, Grim added, “questions about how it came about” will persist.

Many Sanders supporters were unwilling to give Warren much benefit of the doubt and characterized the accusation as a “cynical,” “desperate,” and “sad” effort to attack her rival—leading her in most polling—just a day before the next Democratic debate and only three weeks ahead of the Iowa caucus.

For her part, Sanders national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray was unsparing to those co-opting the language of the ‘Me Too’ movement and trying to use a faux form of feminism to argue that Warren’s version of what transpired is beyond reproach simply because she is a woman:

After CNN‘s story earlier in the day, but prior to Warren’s evening statement, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir claimed the reporting—which cited anonymous sources not even present during the private discussion—was troubling precisely because the accusation was unequivocally false. “It’s a lie,” Shakir asserted. Watch:

With progressives warning that a distracting and drawn out imbroglio between Warren and Sanders at this point in the primary is a lose-lose for the movement overall—and that only corporate interests and Republicans will benefit from a division between the two most left-leaning candidates—many wished the story would just go away.

Meanwhile, the emerging unified message from the Sanders campaign was a call to “stay focused” on the issues that matter and keep the eye on the prize of winning the primary and then beating Trump in order to enact a bold vision to transform the nation.

As the controversy stirred up by a private conversation between Warren and Sanders in 2018 raged on social media and among the cable news pundits, Emma Vigeland of The Young Turks warned of the damage being done and called for a renewed truce between the two candidates:

“Everything about this Bernie/Warren story sucks,” Vigeland stated. “I hate it.”

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