“I just say very simply, why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? Why has he spent over $2 million in legal fees to keep this quiet and to keep this silent?”
— Donald Trump, April 10, 2011
“More power to him [Trump]. He’s not just throwing stones from the sidelines, he’s digging in, he’s paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate.”
— Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, April 9, 2011
The controversy over the circumstances of President Obama’s birth has erupted once again, courtesy of Donald Trump’s sudden desire to test the presidential waters. He has appeared on numerous television shows and written a letter to the editor of the New York Times, spouting all sorts of Four-Pinocchio innuendo that had long ago been debunked by my colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.org. Their fine work does not need to be repeated, and below we provide links to their articles to address many of the issues Trump has raised.
The charge that Obama has spent $2 million to keep this issue quiet is a relatively new one. (Trump has also said Obama spent “millions of dollars trying to get away from this.”) Sarah Palin also echoed the claim over the weekend when she congratulated Trump for hiring investigators to look into this issue.
(Note to the former governor: The Fact Checker dealt with The Donald in a previous life as a financial reporter for New York Newsday. We wouldn’t bet he has actually hired anyone unless he presented us with the canceled check.)
Let’s examine this latest claim about Obama and his circumstances of his birth.
Barack Hussein Obama II was born on Aug. 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m. in Honolulu. His parents were Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama. The birth was reported by the state’s two main newspapers about a week or so later, based on information received from the State Department of Health, as thus: “Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama, 6085 Kalanianaole Highway, son, Aug. 4.”
The above information is extremely controversial to some people, though it requires a highly imagined sense of conspiracy to believe fake birth notices would be placed in newspapers decades ago on the extremely unlikely possibility that the baby would become president of the United States.
Although the Obama presidential campaign posted on its Web site a copy of the birth certificate that would be good enough for him to get a passport (it includes an embossed seal and official signature), the myth persists that he has never produced the actual birth certificate — i.e., the original document held in the state’s files. Generally, however, you don’t get that kind of document when you request a copy of your birth certificate, since birth certificates evolve over time.
A state official has stated that such a document exists, and Obama appears to believe that there is no need to give in to conspiracy theorists by requesting its release. (A more cynical view might be that the president thinks the controversy helps rev up his base and has the added benefit of tying the Republican Party to an extreme right-wing fringe that would never be satisfied with any document that was released.)
So the basic premise of Trump’s question is absurd. Obama has produced a birth certificate — one that would be accepted by the State Department and any court in the land. No legal entity would require the actual original certificate as proof of citizenship. But where does the claim of $2 million come from?
Trump’s office provided this e-mailed answer from The Donald: “It is well known in legal circles that this is the kind of time they are spending on the issue. Isn’t it a shame when all he has to do is produce his birth certificate, which he has not done.”
(Palin’s office did not respond to two requests asking where she got the $2 million figure.)
We don’t think The Donald actually heard this in “legal circles.” Instead, $2 million is a figure that has been promoted by World Net Daily, a conservative Web site that has tried its best to fan the flames of the birther movement. In a number of articles, it has speculated that all of the legal fees spent by the Obama campaign since the election have been devoted to defending the president against a series of lawsuits concerning the certificate — all of which have been ultimately dismissed as frivolous.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, since January 2009 those legal fees total $2 million.
The filings do not break out exactly how much was spent on the lawsuits and Obama campaign officials decline to engage in “birther” questions. But it’s pretty clear that the bulk of the legal spending was devoted to other matters, such as winding down the campaign and defending against FEC investigations into the financing of Obama’s presidential bid. John McCain’s campaign, which did not raise nearly as much money as Obama, has spent $1.3 million on legal fees since the election, according to an article last month in Roll Call.
Also, it seems a bit strange to criticize Obama for spending money to defend himself against lawsuits that have no legal merit. Palin should have sympathy for his position. She said she resigned her governorship because she ran up $500,000 in debt defending herself against what she called frivolous claims.
“You can file a frivolous ethics charge, and many were filed against me, and I won all of them, but it doesn’t cost the person who is filing them anything. They can just make something up, and in fact they did make a lot of things up,” she said on Mark Levin’s syndicated tadio show in 2009. “So it was over half a million dollars in legal fees that I was accumulating to defend against frivolous lawsuits that were getting thrown out one by one.”
The Pinocchio Test
There will always be cranks, conspiracy freaks and fringe operators in our political system. It is certainly important to raise questions that have not been fully addressed. But it is bizarre to see two possible presidential candidates give support to absurd and false claims that have been debunked time and time again.
Other ‘Birther’ myths debunked
In his letter to the New York Times, Trump raised other questions that have already been answered by either PolitiFact or FactCheck.org. The New York Times did not provide an annotated guide to this hooey, so here are the relevant links.
“His grandmother from Kenya stated, on tape, that he was born in Kenya and she was there to watch the birth.” False: On the tape, there was initial misunderstanding but then she said he was born in Hawaii.
“His family in Honolulu is fighting over which hospital in Hawaii he was born in — they just don’t know.” Another myth with no basis in fact.
“He has not been able to produce a ‘birth certificate’ but merely a totally unsigned ‘certificate of live birth’ — which is totally different and of very little significance.” Wrong: It is signed and has full legal significance.
“There are no records in Hawaii that a Barack Hussein Obama was born there.” Wrong again, there is plenty of evidence.
“As far as the two notices placed in newspapers, many things could have happened, but some feel the grandparents put an ad in order to show that he was a citizen of the U.S.” Oops, the information was provided by the State Department of Health — not the grandparents.