Trump Acknowledges Obama’s U.S. Birth After Years Stoking Doubt

  • Republican nominee doesn’t apologize, as Clinton urged him to
  • His questioning of Obama helped lay groundwork for 2016 bid

Trump: Obama 'Was Born in the United States, Period'

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday publicly acknowledged President Barack Obama’s citizenship after his years of questioning it helped lay the groundwork for his White House run.

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” Trump said at his namesake hotel in Washington.

Trump blamed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for starting questions about Obama’s birthplace when she ran against Obama in 2008 -- a claim rated false by nonpartisan fact-checkers. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” he said. “Now we all want to get back to making America great again.”

Trump’s questioning of Obama’s citizenship flared up Thursday when he told the Washington Post he didn’t want to answer whether he believed Obama was born in Hawaii. He has gained on Clinton in polls and now seeks to pull ahead after a rocky stretch for her campaign.

Hour Late

Trump teased his comments in a phone interview on Fox Business earlier in the day, leading to wide coverage of the event on cable news. The event started about an hour late, and Trump’s comments on Obama came at the end after he boasted about his new hotel and had several military veterans speak on his behalf. He didn’t take questions from reporters who were there.

Before the event started, Trump was huddled in a holding room for 15 minutes with some of his closest advisers, including campaign CEO Steve Bannon, deputy campaign manager David Bossie, son Eric Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, spokesperson Hope Hicks and policy director Stephen Miller, according to several attendees. They debated how much or how little detail Trump should give in his announcement. In the end, the advisers were unanimous: Keep it short, the attendees said.

After Trump declined to tell the Washington Post whether he believed Obama was born in the U.S., his campaign spokesman on Thursday said in a statement that Trump did believe it.

‘No Erasing It’

Clinton on Friday said her opponent wouldn’t be able to put the issue behind him with a simple statement.

“For five years he has led the birther movement to de-legitimize our first black president. His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history,” Clinton said at a separate event in Washington before Trump spoke. “Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald owes him and the American people an apology.”

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement after Trump spoke that “it was appalling to watch Trump appoint himself the judge of whether the President of the United States is American. This sickening display shows more than ever why Donald Trump is totally unfit be president.”

Obama said he was “not that shocked actually” that the issue had come up again.

“It’s fairly typical,” Obama told reporters at the White House before Trump spoke. “We’ve got other business to attend to. I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well. My hope is that the presidential election reflects more serious issues.”

Penn Memo

In recent days, Trump campaign staffers have been studying a 2008 Atlantic magazine article (whose author is now a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter) that revealed, based on leaked e-mails and strategy memos, how Clinton’s 2008 campaign systematically attacked Obama as they battled for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The article included a leaked memo by Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, proposing that she attack Obama for his “lack of American roots.” In the memo, Penn wrote of Obama, “His roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

A Trump campaign official confirmed that Thursday’s statement from Trump’s spokesman -- which also blamed Clinton for starting the so-called birther movement -- was an allusion to the 2008 article and the Penn memo. 

Reached for comment on Friday, Penn said, “I never had anything to do with starting the discussion of Obama’s birth certificate, ever. To the contrary, it’s completely false.”

PolitiFact, one of the fact-checkers that has rated false the accusation that Clinton started the movement, said it “appears to have begun with Democrats supporting Clinton and opposing Obama” but “there is no direct tie to Clinton or her 2008 campaign.”

“Most of the talk started after Clinton suspended her presidential campaign,” PolitiFact said.

After the fierce 2008 primary fight, Obama made Clinton his secretary of state and they worked closely together. She stepped down after four years, and the president has campaigned vigorously for her in 2016.

Black Support

Polls show Trump has little support from African-American voters, and as recently as Tuesday, his campaign was considering other ways to address his questioning of the first black president’s eligibility.

One plan involved Trump apologizing to a group of black ministers next week for his campaign against Obama, said two Trump advisers who asked not to be named. But Thursday evening’s events appear to have convinced the campaign to move more quickly to address concerns.

Polls showed the belief that Obama wasn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen had taken root among many Americans by the time of his first term.

Before Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011, 38 percent of Americans said he was definitely born in the U.S., according to the pollster Gallup. The month after he released it, 47 percent percent said he was definitely born in the U.S., 18 percent said he probably was, and 13 percent said he definitely or probably was born in another country.

Among Republicans in the May 2011 polling, 49 percent said Obama was definitely or probably born in the U.S., while 23 percent disagreed, according to Gallup. Among Democrats in May 2011, 81 percent said Obama was definitely or probably born in the U.S. while 5 percent disagreed.

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, Sahil Kapur, Joi Preciphs, and Joshua Green

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