Elections

2 Clinton supporters in ’08 reportedly shared Obama ‘birther’ story

President Barack Obama talks to media at the start of a meeting with business, government and national security leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, to discuss how the Trans-Pacific Partnership can benefit American workers and businesses and further national security.
President Barack Obama talks to media at the start of a meeting with business, government and national security leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, to discuss how the Trans-Pacific Partnership can benefit American workers and businesses and further national security. AP

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.

The issue arose Friday as Donald Trump finally acknowledged that Obama was born in the U.S. Trump, a leading champion of the debunked “birther” conspiracy theory for years, attempted to blame Clinton for starting it when she ran against Obama in 2008 for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In fact, there were several people publicly pushing the theory, which was repeated extensively on conservative news outlets. There were the two Clinton supporters, but there is no evidence that Clinton herself or her campaign spread the story.

Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s campaign manager during part of the 2008 race, told CNN on Friday that an Iowa campaign worker had passed on an email about the birther conspiracy and that Clinton quickly fired him.

Solis Doyle 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.”

Phil Singer, Clinton’s 2008 campaign press secretary, said by email Friday: “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.”

Meanwhile, former McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher tweeted Friday that 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.”

Blumenthal, who worked in the White House with President Bill Clinton and later was employed by the Clinton Foundation, could not be reached Friday but said in an email to The Boston Globe, “This is false. Period.”

The birther issue was long the province of conservative talk show hosts and far right politicians who opposed Obama’s candidacy and then his presidency. Trump used it as his platform into politics five years ago, despite numerous reports that exposed it as false.

He reversed field Friday at the end of an appearance before veterans and former military officials who support him. But instead of ending the controversy, he fueled it further, with his claim about Hillary Clinton’s involvement.

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.

Penn’s memo said, “Every speech should contain the line that you were born in the middle of America in the middle class in the middle of the last century.”

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