WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s campaign on Thursday said he believes President Barack Obama was born in the US, a major reversal from a line of attack Trump launched five years ago.
The announcement late Thursday night is an attempt by Trump’s campaign to take the controversial issue — which helped propel him to political prominence — off the table ahead of the first presidential debate later this month.
But Trump himself has not flatly said Obama was born in Hawaii.
Jason Miller, a campaign spokesman, released a statement reading, “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 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.”
‘I just don’t want to answer it yet’
Earlier Thursday, Trump refused to say whether he believes Obama was born in the US, despite recent efforts by his top surrogates to downplay the so-called “birther” controversy.
“I’ll answer that question at the right time. I just don’t want to answer it yet,” Trump told The Washington Post.
Clinton slammed Trump’s comments to the Post while speaking at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event in Washington later Thursday, saying he needs to stop his “ugliness” and “bigotry.”
“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,” she said. “This is the best he can do. This is who he is. And so we need to decide who we are.”
Her campaign Thursday night said Trump needs to publicly say Obama was born in the US.
“Trump needs to say it himself. On camera. And admit he was wrong for trying to delegitimize the country’s first African American President,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted.
And Clinton’s campaign tweeted from her official account, “President Obama’s successor cannot and will not be the man who led the racist birther movement. Period.”
Surrogates downplay controversy
In speaking to the Post, Trump was responding to a question about whether Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, was being accurate when she said last week that Trump now believes Obama was born in the United States.
Trump told the Post he didn’t want to talk about the “birther” controversy anymore, but refused to say what he believed about it.
“It’s OK. (Conway) is allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs, I want to focus on other things,” he said. “I don’t talk about it anymore. The reason I don’t is because then everyone is going to be talking about it as opposed to jobs, the military, the vets, security.”
Conway told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” last Friday that the so-called birther controversy is over. Her remarks came after similar comments from Trump surrogate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said that Trump now believes Obama was born in the United States.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also drew a clear distinction with Trump last Wednesday by saying that he believed Obama was born in the US.
Trump campaign blames Clinton
In his statement, 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 was referring to a controversy from the 2008 Democratic primary fight between Obama and Clinton. In a March 2008 interview with “60 Minutes,” Clinton said she took then-Sen. Obama’s word that he was not a Muslim, but when pressed if she believed he was, she replied, “No. No, there is nothing to base that on — as far as I know.”
Clinton, however, was not questioning Obama’s birthplace.
The ‘birther’ controversy
Regardless of the controversy’s origins, Trump has used it to launch his political career. In 2011, he emerged as one of the fringe movement’s leaders, repeatedly seeking to cast doubt on Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy in office.
“I have people that have been studying (Obama’s birth certificate) and they cannot believe what they’re finding … I would like to have him show his birth certificate, and can I be honest with you, I hope he can,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show. “Because if he can’t, if he can’t, if he wasn’t born in this country, which is a real possibility … then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.”
He continued to make media appearances and call Obama’s birthplace into question on Twitter, eventually pushing Obama to release his long-form birth certificate — which proves he was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961 — at a White House news conference.