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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.”

Truthdig

Citations

[1] Kristen Orthman on Twitter: "In response to a great deal of questions we’ve had today, below is a statement from Elizabeth Warren:… " ➤ https://twitter.com/KristenOrthman/status/1216879913078329344[2] 'Ludicrous': Sanders Refutes Claims Made in Anonymously Sourced Hit Piece by CNN About Warren Meeting | Common Dreams News ➤ https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/13/ludicrous-sanders-refutes-claims-made-anonymously-sourced-hit-piece-cnn-about-warren[3] 'Ludicrous': Sanders Refutes Claims Made in Anonymously Sourced Hit Piece by CNN About Warren Meeting | Common Dreams News ➤ https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/13/ludicrous-sanders-refutes-claims-made-anonymously-sourced-hit-piece-cnn-about-warren[4] pj evans on Twitter: "Bernie Sanders telling a class of 3rd graders in 1987 that women have as much right as men do to run for office. "It's changing, but it's not changing fast enough."… https://t.co/tX8giNuhfb" ➤ https://t.co/h5y86XfAF4[5] Ryan Grim on Twitter: "The version of the story where Bernie says a woman “can’t win” just doesn’t scan. That’s not how he talks. His explanation, that he said Trump will weaponize misogyny, makes more sense (and is obviously true).… https://t.co/EZX1Q1GLD7" ➤ https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1216853416686735360?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[6] Dave Weigel on Twitter: "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.”" ➤ https://twitter.com/daveweigel/status/1216885607844261888[7] Dave Weigel on Twitter: "Not gonna tweet all night about this, but the initial Sanders statement denied that he said a woman can’t win, and added that they discussed how Trump was a “sexist” who would “weaponize whatever he could.” That’s where I see the overlap w Warren statement." ➤ https://twitter.com/daveweigel/status/1216898462954000384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[8] Steadman™ on Twitter: "Our reporting: "Ms. Warren’s advisers insisted she had no intention of making this private meeting a public spectacle. However, after Mr. Sanders’s team forcefully denied the reports, some believed she had no choice but to offer her account firsthand." https://t.co/gk9Qy33b21" ➤ https://t.co/jSvyLTNa7F[9] Emma Vigeland on Twitter: "I’m sure there are elements of truth in both versions of the story. But this was a private conversation from year ago— two friends talking politics. A “version” of the story isn’t enough, especially when the charge is so extreme... and beneficial to the one dipping in the polls.… https://t.co/MkYrIYxJVV" ➤ https://twitter.com/EmmaVigeland/status/1216912986473889792?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[10] Natalie Shure on Twitter: "without a transcript, the Warren/Sanders story is basically two dueling characterizations of a conversation from over a year ago. I don't for one second believe that he said "a woman can't win," nor did she explicitly attribute those words to him in her confirmation." ➤ https://twitter.com/nataliesurely/status/1216895645782630402?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[11] Matt Taibbi on Twitter: "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." ➤ https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1216913115834724353[12] Steve Peoples on Twitter: "NEWS: 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." ➤ https://twitter.com/sppeoples/status/1216814167283453960[13] Ryan Grim on Twitter: "I asked @ewarren if the leak from the Sanders meeting was intentional, and she said that it was not. There’ll continue to be a lot of questions about how it came about." ➤ https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1216925973259546624[14] Anthony Clark for Congress on Twitter: "Weaponized identity politics: cynical emphasis on personal identity over political beliefs in order to advance candidates whose interests are inapposite to needs of groups they’re presumed to represent” - @briebriejoy When they can’t win on policy... https://t.co/TfHOraMCJN" ➤ https://twitter.com/anthonyvclark20/status/1216802102527307776[15] Emma Vigeland on Twitter: "My attempted last thought on this... I’ve heard countless good progressives say they don’t think a woman can defeat Trump in this climate. Even if Bernie straight up said that (which I doubt), Warren didn’t address the likely context in her response. She’s desperate. It’s sad." ➤ https://twitter.com/EmmaVigeland/status/1216922666231377925[16] Meagan Day on Twitter: "Really low to shop around a damning story about a private and therefore, if both parties present disagree, categorically unverifiable conversation in the eleventh hour." ➤ https://twitter.com/meaganmday/status/1216885339077275648?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[17] Secular Talk on Twitter: "There's 2 possibilities as far as I can tell: 1- Warren is lying 2- She's being purposely dense to the context. IE Bernie saying something like: "bc of the role of sexism, a woman will unfairly have a harder time getting elected" Either way she stabbed her "friend" in the back" ➤ https://twitter.com/KyleKulinski/status/1216886598379413504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[18] Julia on Twitter: "I would concede that I could've misinterpreted it and would call my "good friend" for clarity before asserting something that clearly goes nuclear on his campaign . unless that is, my intention was to go nuclear on his campaign. in which case, I'd do what Warren did… https://t.co/WMHgpVAihV" ➤ https://twitter.com/bigkittenqueen/status/1216896172826222598?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[19] Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/ewarren?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[20] Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/SenSanders?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[21] News about #Bernie2020 on Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bernie2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[22] RoseAnn DeMoro on Twitter: "I think it is insulting that @EWarren seems to believe that women are politically shallow enough that we would buy the lie that @SenSanders does not think a woman can win the presidency. This is truly disgraceful. #Bernie2020" ➤ https://twitter.com/RoseAnnDeMoro/status/1216905477507805185?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[23] Briahna Joy Gray on Twitter: "When you co-opt a tagline intended for rape survivors, because feminism.… " ➤ https://t.co/bbc0I6F1DY[24] Briahna Joy Gray on Twitter: "I honestly can't stop thinking about how this is one of the most despicable, craven, cynical exploitations of sexual assault I've ever seen -- all because a political operative who, herself, has a checkered record on protecting survivors, doesn't like Bernie.… https://t.co/asAwcqbcOu" ➤ https://twitter.com/briebriejoy/status/1216918242696011776?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[25] Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/BernieSanders?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[26] Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/ewarren?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[27] Faiz (@fshakir) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/fshakir?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[28] Ryan Nobles on Twitter: "NEW: @BernieSanders campaign manager responds to report that in 2018 Sanders told @ewarren that a woman couldn’t win in 2020. @fshakir: “It is a lie.”… https://t.co/KnNYXiWjlB" ➤ https://t.co/JTgugmlb2k[29] Ryan Nobles on Twitter: "NEW: @BernieSanders campaign manager responds to report that in 2018 Sanders told @ewarren that a woman couldn’t win in 2020. @fshakir: “It is a lie.”… https://t.co/KnNYXiWjlB" ➤ https://twitter.com/ryanobles/status/1216843797633675264?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[30] Biden, Buttigieg, and Corporate Media Are Eager for Sanders and Warren 'Trash Talk' Narrative to Take Hold | Common Dreams Views ➤ https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/01/13/biden-buttigieg-and-corporate-media-are-eager-sanders-and-warren-trash-talk[31] Varshini Prakash 🌅 on Twitter: "mom and dad are fighting and all I wanna do is go to my room and put my headphones on." ➤ https://twitter.com/VarshPrakash/status/1216901448274870274?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[32] Bernie Sanders on Twitter: "Trump and Republicans have been attacking us over and over and over again the last few days. In other words, the most dangerous president in modern American history is getting a little nervous.… https://t.co/0Am1z5lfWx" ➤ https://t.co/1s5X2VTzHa[33] Faiz on Twitter: "Stay focused, everyone… " ➤ https://twitter.com/fshakir/status/1216895058617696257?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[34] Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/ewarren?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[35] Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) | Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/BernieSanders?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[36] Emma Vigeland on Twitter: ".@ewarren and @BernieSanders need to squash this by tomorrow night’s debate. I think Warren’s in the wrong. But more importantly: this helps BIDEN. Anti-single payer, pro-Wall St, Iraq war voting, mass incarcerating, can’t remember anything BIDEN. He’d lose to Trump. End this." ➤ https://twitter.com/EmmaVigeland/status/1216926318002044931?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[37] Emma Vigeland on Twitter: "Everything about this Bernie/Warren story sucks. I hate it. That said, what Sanders mused about in private (which could have been in the context of critiquing sexism!) is irrelevant. His record speaks for itself. This is pointless hearsay — a conversation manipulated by time." ➤ https://twitter.com/EmmaVigeland/status/1216918524003782663