Donald Trump's campaign says he 'believes' President Obama was born in the U.S., after interview reignites birther controversy

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Donald Trump speaks to the American Legion National Convention on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would not say, in an interview with the Washington Post that was conducted on Wednesday night, whether he believes President Obama was born in the United States.

“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”

Shortly after the interview was published on Thursday night, the Trump campaign’s senior communications adviser, Jason Miller, emailed a statement to reporters insisting Trump does not have questions about Obama’s birthplace.

“Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States,” he wrote.

Trump’s comments in the Washington Post interview contradicted other statements made by his campaign.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said they both “accept” that Obama was born in the United States. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has also said Trump believes Obama was born in the country. However, in his interview with the Washington Post, Trump suggested Conway was expressing her personal opinion.

“It’s OK. She’s allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on other things,” Trump said.

Trump spent much of 2011 raising questions about so-called “birther” conspiracy theories that contend that Obama was not born in the country. At one point, Trump even suggested he had a team of investigators looking into the matter. In April 2011, the White House released the president’s long-form birth certificate, one of multiple pieces of evidence invalidating the theories, and Trump boasted that he had helped push Obama to produce the document.

“Today, I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,” Trump said in 2011. “I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue.”

In the Trump campaign’s emailed statement about the Washington Post interview, Miller accused Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, of first bringing up the questions about Obama’s birthplace in 2008. Miller also credited Trump with pushing the White House to release the president’s birth certificate and suggested the document convinced Trump Obama was born in this country.

“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. 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 wrote, adding, “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.”

Although he initially implied that the issue had been put to rest after Obama’s birth certificate was released, Trump continued to raise questions about where the president was born. As recently as November 2014, he posted comments on Twitter suggesting that Obama’s birth certificate might be a forgery.

Trump has previously suggested that Clinton “started” the “birther movement” when she ran against Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. While there is no record that Clinton or any staffer on her 2008 campaign pushed the conspiracy theories, some of her supporters did play a part in fueling the rumors during her primary battle with Obama.

Nevertheless, Miller directly blamed Clinton in his statement, which included links to a strategy memo written by Clinton’s former campaign manager, Mark Penn, in 2007, that suggested emphasizing Obama’s “lack of American roots” and the fact the president spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. Miller also linked to footage of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough accusing the Clinton campaign of having “started” and “spread” the “birther” rumors.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President. This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook,” Miller wrote, “As usual, however, Hillary Clinton was too weak to get an answer. Even the MSNBC show Morning Joe admits that it was Clinton’s henchmen who first raised this issue, not Donald J. Trump.”

While Trump has never personally indicated that he was fully convinced Obama was born in the United States, he has preferred to sidestep the issue since announcing his presidential bid last year. On multiple occasions when he has been queried about it on the campaign trail, Trump has said it’s something he doesn’t “talk about” any more. Clinton has used the question to undermine his credibility.

“Today he did it again,” Clinton said Thursday night in Washington, D.C. “He was asked one more time where was President Obama born. And he still wouldn’t say ‘Hawaii.’ He still wouldn’t say ‘America.’ This man wants to be our next president. When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry? He’s tried to reset himself and his campaign many times. This is the best he can do. This is who he is.”

Clinton is currently leading Trump in the polls, but the race has tightened in recent weeks. His campaign has attributed these gains to Trump’s adopting a “more disciplined” and positive approach.

Additional reporting by Liz Goodwin in Washington, D.C. 

This story was updated at 10:45 p.m. with the Trump campaign’s statement.