Two days after Donald Trump finally admitted that President Obama was born in the United States, the Republican candidate's surrogates came to his defense on Sunday, repeating his false claim that the conspiracy theory was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it," Trump told reporters on Friday. "President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period."
The conspiracy theory known as the birther movement can actually be traced back to a 2004 press release distributed by Illinois candidate Andy Martin that falsely said Obama was secretly a Muslim who concealed his religion.
Although some supporters for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008 and numerous Republicans promoted the conspiracy, there is no evidence that Clinton or her senior staff have propagated the theory.
Yet, in an interview with Martha Raddatz on ABC's This Week on Sunday, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said that news reports link the conspiracy theory to Clinton’s 2008 bid for the White House.
"I know there's news reports that trace this birther movement all the way back to Hillary Clinton's campaign back in 2008," Pence said.
"You believe that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement?” Raddatz asked.
"Look, I’ll let the facts speak for themselves," the Indiana governor replied.
When pressed on the issue, Pence referred to "news reports with the McClatchy News Service and reports of people in your industry, Martha."
"The reports of people in my industry say there's no proof they can find that Hillary Clinton had anything to do with it," she responded.
In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also alleged Clinton “injected” birtherism into her 2008 campaign.
“It was a contentious issue and, by the way, an issue that Patti Solis Doyle of the Clinton campaign in 2008 has recently admitted was an issue that Mrs. Clinton also injected into her campaign in 2008 in a very quiet but direct way against then-Senator Obama,” Christie said.
Solis Doyle, Clinton's 2008 campaign manager, told CNN on Friday that a campaign volunteer coordinator for Iowa did forward an email promoting the conspiracy in 2007 and was subsequently fired by the campaign.
"Hillary made the decision immediately to let that person go," she said, describing the incident as "beyond the pale" and "not worthy of the kind of campaign that certainly Hillary wanted to run."
In 2011, the White House released Obama’s long-form birth certificate after Trump repeatedly and prominently questioned Obama’s true birthplace, stating that he sent investigators to Hawaii to look into the claim.
Despite this, Christie denied that Trump had questioned the president's birth place "on a regular basis."
“It's simply not true. Jake, it wasn't like he was talking about it on a regular basis until then. When the issue was raised he made very clear the other day what his position is,” Christie said.
Speaking with John Dickerson of Face The Nation on CBS, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway also reiterated the false claim that Clinton started the birther movement and erroneously said that Trump had “put the issue to rest” when “he got Obama to to release his birth certificate years later.”
Conway pointed to a 2007 campaign memo entitled "Lack of American Roots" by Clinton pollster Mark Penn that suggested Obama's international upbringing was a "very strong weakness" for him.
While the memo did question whether Americans would be willing to elect Obama — then a first-time presidential candidate — at no point did it refer to Obama’s citizenship or place of birth.
“We are never going to say anything about his background,” Penn also wrote in the memo, which as Politifact points out, was never acted on by Clinton’s campaign.
Former Arizona governor and Trump supporter Jan Brewer blamed Democrats at large for the birther conspiracy during a roundtable discussion on CNN.
“It was a feeding frenzy on both sides of the aisle,” Brewer said on State of the Union of the conspiracy, arguing that Democrats at the time were also questioning where the president was born, but providing no proof for her claim.
Speaking on the same panel, Marc Morial, former New Orleans mayor and president of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization, described the conspiracy as “offensive” and a “smear campaign” with “incredibly racist undertones.”
“It was offensive to us. It was offensive to me. It was offensive to Americans," he said.
"You can't just sweep it under the rug and say you know what? We closed the deal."
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
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