WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign says the Republican presidential candidate now believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States, but the Republican nominee has yet to personally repudiate his past promotion of the false premise that Obama was not.
Meanwhile, as Trump’s campaign sought to put that false conspiracy theory to rest, it stoked another: saying the “ugly incident” known as the birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence that is true.
“She is the one that started it, and she was unable or incapable of finishing it. That’s the way it worked it,” Trump said in a phone interview with Fox Business Network early Friday. He said he was planning to “make a big announcement” later in the day at his new Washington hotel.
Clinton herself said Friday that Trump owes Obama and the American people an apology for his role in the birther movement that questioned the president’s citizenship.
Clinton said at an event with black women that Trump’s campaign was “founded on this outrageous lie” and “there is no erasing it.”
She said Trump is feeding into the “worst impulses, the bigotry and bias” of some people.
For years, Trump was the most prominent proponent of the “birther” idea that Obama was born outside the U.S. It provided Trump with his entry into Republican politics and for years has defined his status as an “outsider” who is willing to challenge convention.
As late as Wednesday, Trump would not acknowledge that Obama was born in Hawaii, declining to address the matter in a Washington Post interview published late Thursday night.
“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
Asked by the paper whether his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was accurate when she said in a recent television interview that her boss now believes the president was born in the U.S., Trump was equally evasive. “It’s OK. She’s allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on other things,” he said.
Clinton seized on Trump’s refusal during a speech Thursday night before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
“He was asked one more time where was President Obama born and he still wouldn’t say Hawaii. He still wouldn’t say America,” Clinton said. “This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?”
Hours later, campaign spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement that suggested the question had been settled five years ago — by Trump.
“In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate,” Miller said.
“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,” he added.
“Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.”
The facts of Trump’s actions do not match Miller’s description. Trump repeatedly questioned Obama’s birth in the years after Obama released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, he was pushing the issue on Twitter.
“An `extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that (at)BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he wrote.
Trump has repeatedly said during his White House campaign that he no longer talks about the “birther” issue, but has also refused to retract his previous comments.
“I don’t talk about it because if I talk about that, your whole thing will be about that,” he told reporters aboard his plane last week. “So I don’t talk about it.”
One of Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., said Thursday that Miller’s statement “should be the definitive end” of questions about his father’s position.
Yet in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Trump Jr. said that while the campaign statement is one “coming from him” –meaning his father — he doesn’t know if his father will say the words himself.
Trump Jr. said his father views this as a distraction from more substantive issues in the campaign.
Trump’s comments speculating on Obama’s birthplace have been seen by many as an attempt to delegitimize the nation’s first black president, and have turned off many of the African-American voters he is now courting in his bid for the White House.
On the day he released the document, Obama jabbed at Trump, saying “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
Miller’s claim that Clinton launched the birther movement during her unsuccessful primary run against Obama in 2008 is unsubstantiated and long denied by Clinton. The theory was pushed by some bloggers who backed Clinton’s primary campaign eight years ago, but Clinton has said Trump “promoted the racist lie” that sought to “delegitimize America’s first black president.”
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.