Donald Trump said that President Obama was born in the United States during an event at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on September 16, 2016. He also claimed that the birther issue was started by Hillary Clinton’s campaign when she ran for president in 2008.
For several years now, the Democrats have alleged that the Republicans — particularly the Tea Party — were responsible for casting doubt over Obama’s origins and background. That is incorrect.
While it is true that Trump was responsible for getting Obama to finally come forward with his long form birth certificate in 2011 — just over two years into his first term in office — Trump did not start the birther movement.
Far from it.
In fact, everything started with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007.
(Image credit: #NolteNC)
December 2007 — heated exchange between Clinton and Obama
Reggie Love served as Obama’s personal aide between 2007 and 2011.
In 2015, he released a book, Power Forward, a memoir of those years.
He described events in December 2007 which he said were the turning point in the campaign fortunes of the then-Senator Obama. The Washington Post covered this excerpt on January 29, 2015. A summary follows, supplemented by quotes. Emphases mine below.
The Clinton campaign put out information accusing the Illinois senator of using drugs and being a Muslim.
Billy Shaheen was the man who mentioned that the GOP would seize the drugs angle:
Billy Shaheen, then co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign, had speculated to The Washington Post that Republicans would attack Sen. Barack Obama on the drug use the candidate had admitted to on the trail and in “Dreams From My Father,” his 1995 memoir. As Shaheen put it: “It’ll be, ‘When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?’ There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks.”
The next day, Obama and Clinton were at Reagan National Airport on their way to Iowa for a televised debate featuring the Democratic primary candidates. Reggie Love wrote in his memoir:
“I want to apologize for the whole Shaheen thing,” Clinton said. “I want you to know I had nothing to do with it.”
The candidate very respectfully told her the apology was kind, but largely meaningless, given the emails it was rumored her camp had been sending out labeling him as a Muslim.
Before he could finish his sentence, she exploded on Obama. In a matter of seconds, she went from composed to furious. It had not been Obama’s intention to upset her, but he wasn’t going to play the fool either.
To Love and Obama’s entourage witnessing this exchange:
it was an obvious turning point in our campaign, and we knew it.
From that point on through to Hillary’s standing down six months later, the tension between the two campaign teams was, in Love’s words, ‘electric’:
their respective staffs reflected the understanding that she was no longer the de facto Democratic candidate. Her inevitability had been questioned. . . .
Later that day, Obama told Love that:
he knew he was going to win the nomination after that moment on the tarmac, because Clinton had unraveled, and he was still standing and keeping his cool. It was just the confidence boost he needed.
Wow. It all boiled down to personal composure. What a lesson for the rest of us.
That is how an unknown junior senator from Illinois became a two-term president of the United States.
Incidentally, Billy Shaheen resigned from the Clinton campaign that day:
“I made a mistake and in light of what happened, I have made the personal decision that I will step down,” he said in a statement.
2008: Clinton campaign continued casting doubt
On September 16, in another McClatchy article reporter David Goldstein revealed more details about Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and the way two people in particular sowed doubt about Obama:
Two supporters of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign reportedly shared the claim that then-rival Barack Obama was not born in the United States and thus was not eligible to be president.
One was a volunteer in Iowa, who was fired, Clinton’s former campaign manager said Friday. The other was Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, according to a former McClatchy Washington Bureau chief.
It’s interesting that the people David Goldstein interviewed for his McClatchy article have such differing views on whether the Clinton campaign was responsible for birtherism and other rumours.
Phil Singer, her press secretary in 2008, emailed to say:
The idea that the Hillary Clinton campaign had anything to do with spreading the birther issue has as much credibility as the birther issue itself: none. It didn’t happen.
However, Patti Solis Doyle, who was Clinton’s campaign manager at that time:
said she’d called Obama campaign official David Plouffe at the time “to apologize and basically say that this was not coming from us. It was a rogue volunteer coordinator.”
Sidney Blumenthal — who worked as an adviser to Bill Clinton during his time in the White House, then on Hillary’s 2008 campaign and later, for a time, at the Clinton Foundation — emailed the Boston Globe to say:
This is false. Period.
Yet, former McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher tweeted and emailed on Friday, September 16, that Blumenthal had given him information about Obama’s origins:
Blumenthal had “told me in person” that Obama was born in Kenya.
“During the 2008 Democratic primary, Sid Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Co.,” Asher said in an email Friday to McClatchy, noting that he was at the time the investigative editor and in charge of Africa coverage.
“During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya. We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false.
“At the time of Mr. Blumenthal’s conversation with me, there had been a few news articles published in various outlets reporting on rumors about Obama’s birthplace. While Mr. Blumenthal offered no concrete proof of Obama’s Kenyan birth, I felt that, as journalists, we had a responsibility to determine whether or not those rumors were true. They were not.”
As Asher points out, McClatchy was not the only media outlet investigating these rumours.
The McClatchy journalist who went to Kenya is Shashank Bengali. His report from Kenya on Super Tuesday 2008 — February 5 — states that Obama’s African relatives were fed up with all the reporters:
Barack Obama’s extended family in Kenya issued this plea to journalists:
Please leave us alone.
The media outlets set up equipment in the small village of Nyang’oma Kogello to record family members’ reactions as the Democratic primary results rolled in that night.
Bengali’s article has a photo of Obama and Mama Sarah, his paternal grandmother. Mama Sarah had been besieged by reporters since … 2006:
Mama Sarah figures she’s been interviewed and photographed by hundreds of journalists in the past two years.
Bengali’s conclusion is interesting for Americans who hold that natural born citizenship — a requirement for the president and vice president of the United States — involves being born on American soil or military base overseas and both parents holding American citizenship at the time the two people occupying — or vying for those offices — were born:
Yes, Obama’s father was Kenyan, and yes, it’s mildly diverting that a man who has a better than reasonable shot of living in the White House has about 30 relatives living in a village of mud huts and fishermen. But haven’t we sort of covered the waterfront on this story?
Fast forwarding to 2016, McClatchy’s David Goldstein gave these details on September 16:
Clinton, at a speech in the nation’s capital, said Trump needed to apologize.
“For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president,” she said. “His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie.”
The Trump campaign issued a news release with a portion of Solis Doyle’s interview and a link to memos back then to Clinton from Mark Penn, her 2008 pollster. One raises the issue of Obama’s “lack of American roots.” Obama was born in Hawaii. His father was Kenyan and his mother was from Kansas.
A former ‘Hillary insider’ writes
Before I get into further specifics of this issue, I remember the birther controversy as it unfolded after Hillary ended her campaign in the summer of 2008, weeks before the Democratic National Convention that year.
My better half and I watched Hillary’s lengthy speech explaining why she was withdrawing from the race in 2008. It was broadcast here in the UK in full on a Saturday evening in June, if I remember rightly.
We found it so astonishing that SpouseMouse suggested I go see how Democrats were reacting online.
That evening changed my outlook on the Democratic Party forever.
I still read both every other day during general election campaigns and highly recommend them.
With regard to No Quarter, its founder and principal contributor is Larry Johnson, who worked for the CIA and is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. He has his own business consulting firm which offers expertise combating terrorism and investigating money laundering. You can read more at the link.
On September 16, Larry Johnson wrote ‘Confessions of a Hillary Insider’, which I urge every Clinton supporter and active Democrat to read in full — including all his referenced 63 posts from the first half of 2008.
In his ‘confessions’, Johnson says that Sidney Blumenthal provided him with several sets of information about Obama in 2008.
This information concerned the then-candidate’s links to corruption via Chicago’s Tony Rezko, links to Palestinian radicals, ties to 1960s terrorist Bill Ayers and radical clerics, his citizenship status and childhood in Indonesia with stepfather Lolo Soetoro.
I am shocked at the audacity of Hillary Clinton to decry Donald Trump as a birther because her campaign not only pushed that item in a bid to discredit Barack Obama, but mounted a sustained campaign attack Obama on a broad array of issues. How do I know? I was part of that effort and was in regular email and phone coordination with Sidney Blumenthal. Sidney was the conduit who fed damaging material to me that I subsequently posted on my blog.
In some cases Sid Blumenthal actually provided a draft piece that I would slightly modify and publish under my name. Most of the time, however, Sid provided background information and researched material that I would use to craft pieces.
By the time I discovered No Quarter, all of Johnson’s readers — also Hillary supporters — were well versed in the questions and issues surrounding Obama.
In fact, every Hillary supporter knew about these issues — regardless of what websites they read.
One of the big ticket items was a tape recording that never materialised. Allegedly, it featured audio of the present first lady using the term ‘whitey’. Hillary’s supporters waited and waited for nothing. Johnson regrets having fallen for the story:
I published that after being told about the “tape” by Sid Blumenthal. (I learned a few weeks later that the story of the tape actually originated with Media Matter’s David Brock and he confirmed its existence to me in person).
Now, it is true that Hillary herself never circulated or said anything about these rumours. However, other people writing about them helped sow FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt — about Obama. Johnson says:
Hillary knew about all of these lines of attack on Obama. In fact I was told by Sid on one occasion in the summer of 2008 that the Big Dog (Bill of course) was very pleased with the pieces going up at NoQuarterUSA and thought they were helping Hillary.
But the biggest issue was Obama’s birth certificate, although, interestingly, Johnson states:
the Birth Certificate issue was not pushed hot and heavy by Sid to me.
However, it is equally interesting that conservative broadcasters and writers began to mistakenly credit Johnson with birtherism. Johnson reproduced a lengthy transcript from a Rush Limbaugh broadcast wherein the radio host named him personally.
Yet, Johnson has always shied away from the birth issue. I can vouch for that. When it was in full flow after Obama won the nomination, he never gave it credence:
I never argued or wrote that Barack Obama was not legally qualified. Never. Ever. Just the opposite. I am on the record that he is legally qualified to be President. The first time I ever wrote about the birth certificate controversy was 12 June 2008, “What Does an Authentic Hawaiian Birth Certificate Look Like?“. In July 2008 I was very clear that BARACK WAS NOT BORN IN KENYA …
Today, in 2016, Johnson says:
It is true that I once believed Hillary was qualified by virtue of experience to be President. I was wrong and have written about my error in judgment. Her dishonesty and the incompetence she demonstrated while Secretary of State have convinced me beyond any doubt that she cannot be trusted with the power of that office. That does not mean I trust Donald Trump, but my focus here is in exposing the cynical propaganda that Hillary Clinton is trying to foist on the uninformed voter …
I cannot stomach Hillary pretending like she had no role in attack[ing] Barack Obama on a host of issues that many would consider “racist” if pursued by Donald Trump or any other Republican.
As for Obama:
I only regret getting played on the Whitey Tape. The rest of the information was on target–Barack Obama, by virtue of his associations and friendships, was a terrible choice to be President. I can say now, with the benefit of 8 years of hindsight, that my concerns about his incompetence and ignorance have been confirmed and validated.
Obama’s birth certificates
The controversy about Obama’s birth certificate ramped up during the Democratic campaign following the convention in 2008.
He wrote in his memoir Dreams from My Father that he had lost his original birth certificate. He had been using it as a bookmark.
This modern Certification of Live Birth from the State of Hawaii is what his campaign team expected Americans to accept in 2008.
Not surprisingly, Hillary’s people and many Republicans were less than happy seeing a few bits of information about their future president. Obama’s lack of transparency on other issues — the absence of interviews with old friends, no photos of him at Harvard, among others — also raised legitimate questions in voters’ minds.
He just had — and still has — a lack of transparency about him and an insouciance that Americans had not seen before in a presidential candidate.
It was thanks to Donald Trump’s sustained efforts that the American public were finally able to see a copy of Obama’s original birth certificate in April 2011.
The difference between that and the earlier document is astounding.
Why did Obama not simply request a copy of the long form certificate in 2008? He could have done so and there never would have been any controversy.
To clarify: Trump was not among the original ‘birthers’. He came on board later after all the failed lawsuits, which I’ll get to in a moment. However, Trump was the catalyst for getting Obama to produce the ‘long form’ certificate in 2011. In March that year, he said:
“The reason I have a little doubt — just a little — is because he grew up and nobody knew him,” he told ABC News.
Original birthers and failed lawsuits
The first birthers were Democrats.
In fact, The Telegraph wrote in 2011 that the ‘Birther row began with Hillary Clinton supporters’.
Politico stated the same thing at the same time:
The answer lies in Democratic, not Republican politics, and in the bitter, exhausting spring of 2008. At the time, the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from Hillary Clinton and some of her most passionate supporters grasped for something, anything that would deal a final reversal to Barack Obama.
After Hillary stood down, Pennsylvania lawyer and Hillary Clinton supporter — Philip J Berg — was the first to challenge Obama’s birth record. Wikipedia tells us:
Berg filed a complaint in federal district court on August 21, 2008, against Democratic Party presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee and the Federal Election Commission, alleging that Obama was born actually in Mombasa, Kenya and that the “Certification of Live Birth” on Obama’s website is a forgery. The court dismissed the complaint as “frivolous and not worthy of discussion.” The judge also found that the harm Berg alleged did “not constitute an injury in fact” and that Berg’s arguments to the contrary “ventured into the unreasonable.” Berg filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court and also sought an injunction to suspend the election. The injunction was denied by Justice David Souter on November 3, 2008. Berg also sought an application for injunction pending the disposition of the petition for writ of certiorari; Justice Souter denied it, Berg refiled and submitted it to Justice Anthony Kennedy (who denied it), then refiled and submitted it to Justice Antonin Scalia, who referred it to the Court. On January 12, 2009, the Supreme Court denied Berg’s petition for writ of certiorari (555 U.S. 1126), and on January 21 the Court denied the application for injunction (555 U.S. 1134).
In 2016, it looks as if Berg is aboard the Trump Train, judging from his Facebook posts.
By December 2008, several other Americans filed lawsuits.
Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, NJ, also a lawyer, was one of them. He documented his lawsuit, citizenship research and other people’s efforts on his site, Natural Born Citizen.
Donofrio’s tack was different. He alleged that, not only was Obama ineligible because his father was a British citizen (Kenya was still a colony then), but so were John McCain and Roger Calero. McCain was born in Panama when his father was serving in the Navy; a signed Senate certificate had to be produced allowing him to run for the Republicans. Hillary Clinton was one of the signatories. Roger Calero was born in Nicaragua and ran for the Socialist Workers Party, no questions asked.
Donofrio was unsuccessful. Despite that, he also helped other plaintiffs with their lawsuits. All failed. That had nothing to do with him or them. In short — and avoiding legalese — the Supreme Court considered that all lacked standing. No one filing a lawsuit — even if in the military, as one plaintiff was — personally or directly would be affected by Obama’s natural born citizenship or lack thereof.
Most people concerned about the issue think the Supreme Court didn’t want to open a can of worms.
On March 13, 2012, Donofrio gave up practising law:
After long consideration and discussion with my family, I am saying goodbye to this blog and the law. I am retiring my law license and will be concentrating on making films, and writing music …
By then, Democrats opposed to Obama and concerned Republicans started converging online.
By July 2009, the controversy ended up being more of a Republican Tea Party than a Democrat meme. It is possible that the Democrats were tired of it by then. For Republicans, it was a relatively new issue.
It is also worth pointing out that prominent Republicans and conservatives joined with Democrats in believing that Obama is a natural born citizen, whatever that means these days. At least three different definitions float around. According to one, Obama, Ted Cruz and others with one American citizen parent are natural born citizens. That is not what we 50+s learned at school.
Historical footnote – Chester A Arthur
Questions over an American president’s citizenship arose only one other time, back in the 19th century with Chester Allan Arthur.
Leo Donofrio relates the history, which I — and many others — did not know. It has never been in the history books we had at school.
In short (emphasis in the original):
Chester Arthur was a British citizen/subject by virtue of his father not having naturalized as a United States citizen until Chester Arthur was almost 14 years old.
That means Chester Arthur was a British subject at the time of his birth.
We’ve uncovered news clips exposing a thorough trail of lies, all of which served to obscure Chester Arthur’s true history of having been born as a British citizen.
Chester Arthur’s lies came during his Vice Presidential campaign in 1880. His fraudulent attempt to obfuscate family history provides context and evidence that in 1880 it was recognized that having been born as a British citizen would make one ineligible to be President or VP. His falsification of family history indicates he was aware of POTUS ineligibility.
This post, lengthy as it is, provides the history of those who questioned Obama’s origins or who wanted to smear him during his 2008 campaign.
Republicans were not the originators. Democrats were.