Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday acknowledged for the first time that President Obama was born in the United States, ending his long history of stoking unfounded doubts about the nation’s first African American president but also seeking to falsely blame Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for starting the rumors.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean,” Trump said Friday morning at his newly opened luxury hotel in Washington. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”
This is not the first time that Trump has accused Clinton of sparking speculation over Obama’s birthplace, an assertion that has been repeatedly disproved by fact-checkers who have found no evidence that Clinton or her campaign questioned Obama’s birth certificate or his citizenship.
Trump’s 35-second statement included no apology, and he did not disavow the “birther” movement that he effectively led for more than five years.
Earlier Friday morning, Clinton said Trump owes Obama an apology for promoting the false theory. She did not directly address Trump’s accusation that her 2008 campaign promoted the same theory, but her current campaign flatly rejected that claim.
“For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president,” Clinton said at a gathering of black women at a Washington hotel. “His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history.”
Obama told reporters Friday that he already “was pretty confident about where I was born.” First lady Michelle Obama noted at a Friday rally in Fairfax, Va., that there are those who still question “whether my husband was even born in the country.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “with regard to an apology, I don’t think the president much cares.”
Trump’s statement came as he promoted his newly opened hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The event began more than an hour late and, for the first 25 minutes, consisted of a series of military veterans talking about why they support Trump. The lineup included retired Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, who has publicly questioned the president’s place of birth.
Many of the major cable networks carried the event live, although several cut away as it dragged on. Afterward, Trump took no questions from reporters, who were seated behind several rows of cheering supporters. Reporters stood on chairs and shouted at Trump, with one of them yelling, “Take some questions!”
For years, Trump has been the most prominent backer of the birther movement, which lurked in the dark corners of the Internet until Trump, with the help of conservative media, brought it into the mainstream. Beginning in 2011, Trump tried to drum up publicity for his own possible run for the White House by loudly questioning Obama’s qualifications for office. Trump never said where he thought the president was born, but he demanded to see the president’s long-form birth certificate and other records. Trump also claimed to have hired investigators who traveled to Hawaii.
Birtherism is far from the only conspiracy that Trump has embraced. Trump has also accused the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) of being connected to the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Trump has raised suspicions over the deaths of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February and Vince Foster — a deputy White House counsel in President Bill Clinton’s administration — in 1993. Trump claimed that on 9/11 he watched “thousands and thousands” of Muslims on rooftops in New Jersey celebrating the destruction and has warned that Syrian refugees might be a “Trojan horse” waiting to destroy the United States.
Questions about Obama’s birthplace surfaced in 2007 as he faced Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries. In the spring of that year, some Clinton supporters circulated anonymous emails questioning Obama’s citizenship, but there is no evidence the campaign encouraged such messages.
Trump campaign officials on Friday pointed to a 2007 memo sent by the Clinton campaign’s pollster at the time, Mark Penn, suggesting that Clinton should focus on Obama’s “lack of American roots,” but the document made no mention of his birthplace.
The Trump campaign also highlighted a Friday CNN interview with former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle in which she said the campaign removed a volunteer in Iowa who had forwarded an email promoting the conspiracy theory.
“Hillary made the decision immediately to let that person go,” she said. “We let that person go.”
In April 2011, after renewed questions raised by Trump, Obama released his long-form Hawaiian birth certificate, and Trump congratulated himself by saying that he had “accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.”
But Trump did not revise his position, and he repeatedly questioned the validity of the birth certificate. In an October 2011 interview with CNN, Trump said that if “you check out the Internet, many people say it is not real.” In August 2012, Trump tweeted that “an ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”
Days before the 2012 election, Trump said in an online video that Obama is “the least transparent president in the history of this country” and demanded that Obama release his college records and applications, along with passport records. Trump said that if he ran for president, he would release his tax returns — something that he now refuses to do, because he says several years of his returns are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. Trump is the first nominee from a major party since 1976 to not release his returns; he has also declined to release documentation of his wife’s immigration from Slovenia, his full medical records and other documents typically shared by nominees.
When Trump launched his then-long-shot presidential bid in June 2015, he continued to say in interviews that he did not know whether Obama was born in the United States, although he did not dwell on the issue as he once had. At rallies, Trump repeatedly suggested that the president might not be Christian or that he might sympathize with Islamic State terrorists. In January, Trump said on CNN that he did not know where the president was born.
“Who knows? Who knows? Who cares right now?” Trump said on Jan. 6 on CNN. “We’re talking about something else, okay? I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I’ll write a book. I’ll do another book, and it will do very successfully.”
A sizable minority of voters agreed with Trump. A 2010 Washington Post-ABC News poll found 20 percent saying Obama was born in another country, while 77 percent said he was born in the United States. Those believing Obama was foreign-born plummeted to 10 percent in a 2011 Post-ABC poll after Obama released his long-form birth certificate, but a CNN-ORC poll last September found the number had returned to 20 percent.
In the CNN survey, the belief that Obama was born outside the United States peaked at 26 percent among Republicans and 34 percent among self-identified tea party supporters, compared with 19 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats. Among all those who said Obama was born outside the United States, about half thought there was “solid evidence” for their view, while the rest said it was only their suspicion.
The attacks on the qualifications of the country’s first black president were particularly offensive to many African American voters. As Trump began to make a pitch to minority voters in August, there was renewed debate over Trump’s role in the birther movement.
Democrats seized on Trump’s statement Friday in an attempt to galvanize African American voters around Clinton’s bid, ramping up their effort to portray Trump as a racist. While polls show Clinton drawing an overwhelming share of the black vote, the concern for Democrats has been whether African Americans, particularly younger voters, will feel compelled to turn out in numbers approaching those that Obama drew.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee called for an apology on Friday. For them, Trump’s comments came across as insulting and pandering, considering how many years Trump had promulgated the birther theory.
“He founded it, and that catapulted him into his campaign for the presidency,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who suggested the election would be a “referendum on bigotry.”
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that while he is used to “dog whistles” in politics, he has had a difficult time adjusting to these “howls of wolves.”
“These are howls. These are not whistles,” Clyburn said. “. . . This is not just about the contest for the presidency. This man is on a mission to heap as much insult on this president, to do as much as he possibly can to delegitimize his presidency and to play into a narrative that has been floated in this country for over 200 years.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising appeal on Friday that bluntly stated, “We don’t want to see this racist man become our President.”
Republican former presidential candidate Ben Carson — who now advises Trump, especially on race issues — said on CNN earlier this month that Trump could immediately improve his relationship with African American voters by apologizing for questioning the president’s place of birth.
On Labor Day, reporters aboard Trump’s plane asked him where the president was born, and Trump refused to answer.
“I don’t talk about it, because if I talk about that, your whole thing will be about that,” Trump said. “So I don’t talk about it.”
In an interview with The Washington Post reported online Thursday, Trump was again unwilling to say that Obama was born in the United States, even though several surrogates had said in recent weeks that he now believed it.
“I just don’t want to answer it yet,” Trump said.
That night, Trump’s campaign said in a statement that the candidate does believe Obama was born in the United States and that Trump deserves credit for putting to rest questions about Obama’s birth.
Early Friday, Trump said in an interview on Fox Business that he would make “a big announcement” about his stance on the president’s birthplace during the hotel campaign event.
“You watch my statement,” Trump said. “We have to keep the suspense going. Okay? So you watch.”
Before Trump took the stage, Clinton addressed the Black Women’s Agenda group at a hotel less than a mile away from Trump’s new one.
“Donald Trump looks at President Obama after eight years as our president; he still doesn’t see him as an American,” Clinton said. “Think about how dangerous that is. Imagine a person in the Oval Office who traffics in conspiracy theories and refuses to let them go, no matter what the facts are.”
Karoun Demirjian, John Wagner, Sean Sullivan, Scott Clement and David Nakamura contributed to this report.
DONALD TRUMP, OCT. 27, 2011
“[If] you check out the Internet, many people say it [Obama’s birth certificate] is not real.”
JAN. 6, 2016
“I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I’ll write a book.”
SEPT. 16, 2016
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”