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Trump retreats from Obama 'birther' theory
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump publicly retreated from his “birther” campaign Friday, acknowledging that President Barack Obama was born in the United States and saying that he wanted to move on from the conspiracy theory that he has been clinging to for years.
Marking a sharp reversal from his previous position, Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a campaign appearance that he was now satisfied that Obama was born in Hawaii.
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” Trump said, at his new Trump International Hotel. “Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump also falsely accused Hillary Clinton of having first raised questions about Obama’s birthplace during the 2008 Democratic primary.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said. “I finished it.”
During the 2008 Democratic contest, Clinton’s senior strategist at one point pondered, in an internal memo that was later leaked, the ways in which Obama’s personal background differed from many Americans. But contrary to Trump’s assertion, neither Clinton nor her campaign ever publicly questioned Obama’s citizenship or birthplace, in Hawaii.
Indeed, the topic was such a fringe issue within the Republican Party that in 2011, conservatives, including Ann Coulter, now a vocal Trump supporter, called on Trump to stop pursuing the issue.
Trump’s aides began trying to argue that he had actually “ended” the birther issue in a statement late Thursday night. Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller, asserted — also falsely — that Trump had “obtained” Obama’s birth certificate, which the president released in 2011.
“Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised,” Miller’s statement said.
Trump’s remark came after Obama, in a brief exchange Friday with reporters at the White House, again expressed scorn for the entire subject. “I was pretty confident about where I was born,” he said. “I think most people were as well. My hope would be that the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that.”
Trump’s shift comes as he is trying to make amends with black voters who have been offended by the way he has challenged the legitimacy of the country’s first black president.
The Trump campaign has given conflicting signals on the issue of Obama’s birthplace in recent weeks. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, Trump’s running mate; Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager; and Rudy Giuliani, an adviser, have all recently acknowledged that Obama was born in the United States.
But Trump refused to say that himself in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday night.
“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said in the interview, dismissing the recent acknowledgments by his aides. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
With polls showing Trump overtaking Clinton in some battleground states and deadlocked with her nationally, the Trump campaign is looking to move beyond the birther issue ahead of the first presidential debate at the end of the month.
The Clinton campaign signaled Friday that it does not plan to let Trump slide on the subject, pointing out that he has falsely claimed that the Democratic nominee was initially responsible for raising the questions and noting that he continued to question Obama’s birthplace for years after the release of his birth certificate.
In a speech in Washington on Friday before Trump made his statement, Clinton said that Trump owes Obama and the country an apology and that it is too late for him to walk back what he has done.
“For five years he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president,” Clinton said. “His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie.”
She added, “There is no erasing it in history.”