Even as Donald Trump sought to close the door on the false conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, he peddled another lie by claiming that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was behind it. There is no evidence that is true.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” Trump declared Friday in a brief statement at the end of a televised campaign appearance in which he touted his new hotel and his endorsements from military veterans.
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” he added. “Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
It was a spectacle that exemplified all the most extraordinary aspects of Trump’s unorthodox candidacy: his ability to game the media, his embrace of conspiracy theories, and his pattern of repeating fallacies, even in the face of contradicting facts. And it centered around the “birther” issue that fueled his political rise.
His appearance, in a sprawling ballroom at Trump International Hotel near the White House, turned into a de facto commercial for his campaign and property, as the major cable news networks aired the full event live in anticipation of comments Trump had hyped for hours.
“I’m going to be making a major statement on this whole thing and what Hillary did,” he told the Fox Business Network. “We have to keep the suspense going, OK?”
While some backers of Clinton’s primary campaign against Obama eight years ago raised the question of Obama’s birthplace, Clinton herself has long denounced it as a “racist lie.”
“Trump has spent years peddling a racist conspiracy aimed at undermining the first African-American president,” Clinton tweeted after his event. “He can’t just take it back.”
Trump was the most prominent proponent of the “birther” idea, using it to build his political profile and his conservative credentials. Friday marked the first time he said in no uncertain terms Obama was U.S. born, but he left without taking questions and did not explain how or when he’d come to that conclusion.
As late as Wednesday, Trump was refusing to acknowledge Obama was born in Hawaii, saying in an interview that he’d “answer that question at the right time.”
Hours later, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement that suggested the question had been settled five years ago – by Trump. Yet the facts do not match Miller’s description of the issue.
“In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate,” Miller said.
“Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised,” he added.
In fact, Trump repeatedly continued to question Obama’s birth in the years after the president released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, Trump was pushing the issue on Twitter.
“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he wrote.
Even in January of this year, Trump sounded skeptical when asked whether he now believed the president was a natural-born citizen.
“Who knows? Who cares right now? We’re talking about something else, OK?” Trump said in a CNN interview. “I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I’ll write a book.”
Trump’s reversal comes as he works to win over African-American voters, many of whom have been turned off by his attempt to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.
Obama said Friday that he hoped the election would focus on more serious issues – and that he was “pretty confident about where I was born.”
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
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