Why Donald Trump Lied About Hillary Clinton's Role in the Birther Movement

September 16th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took credit for ending the non-existent "debate" over President Barack Obama's birthplace in a Thursday statement and Friday press conference — while simultaneously casting his opponent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as the founder of the so-called birther movement.


This is a false claim, of course, and it ignores Trump's five-year involvement in the conspiracy theory — which, as Slate points out, is well-documented on Twitter. Trump has also refused to disavow the claim as recently as September 15, 2016, when he refused to answer a question from the Washington Post's Robert Costa.

But where does this false claim come from?

It's not hard to understand why Trump would attempt to shift the blame onto Clinton; he's "portraying himself as the solver of a problem that he, likely more than anyone, helped to exacerbate," as New York Magazine's Jesse Singal wrote. It also plays into a myth Trump has previously peddled about Clinton's role in the birther movement.

It is true, however, that Clinton supporters (though not Clinton herself, nor her campaign) were among the first to raise questions about Obama's citizenship. Politico reported that in the heat of the 2008 election, some of Clinton's backers circulated an anonymous email that included this line:

"Barack Obama’s mother was living in Kenya with his Arab-African father late in her pregnancy. She was not allowed to travel by plane then, so Barack Obama was born there and his mother then took him to Hawaii to register his birth."

They weren't alone in their skepticism. The conspiracy was "embraced by little-known fringe figures like Orly Taitz and Philip Berg, and the right-wing pundit Jerome Corsi," Vox reported. And it wasn't long before the non-issue became a mainstream talking point, rearing its head throughout the president's years in office.

How does Trump get involved?

Trump emerged as the de facto leader of the birther movement when he launched a campaign attacking the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate. He first raised questions about Obama's citizenship in February 2011, during a speech where he floated the idea of running for office himself. From there, Trump continued to amplify the controversy in numerous media appearances — at one point announcing that he'd opened a private investigation into Obama's eligibility.

The controversy culminated (but did not end) in April 2011 when the president released the long-form version of his birth certificate, which Trump viewed as a victory.

“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers," Obama said at the time. It was "a clear reference — if not by name — to Mr. Trump," The New York Times reported.

In a follow-up statement, Trump spokesman Jason Miller again attempted to link Clinton's campaign to the birther movement.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, former Clinton campaign manager Patti Doyle set the record straight on the role of one Clinton volunteer coordinator who had forwarded an email questioning Obama's birthplace in 2007. She explained that Clinton "made the decision immediately to let that person go."

As Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro pointed out, Trump's attempt to spin the narrative (falsely) back to Clinton, highlights a false equivalency.

And here we are today, with the Republican presidential nominee discussing the non-issue of President Obama's citizenship — an issue that fact-checkers had put to rest years ago.

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