Hillary Clinton denied Wednesday having any part in sparking the rumor that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, an accusation leveled this week by GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who has long questioned Obama’s birthplace.
Trump spent much of 2011 demanding to see Obama’s long-form birth certificate, and Tuesday night declined to say if he thought the president was born in the country during an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” But Trump now blames Clinton for starting the conspiracy theory in the first place.
“She was the original birther,” Trump said while stumping in South Carolina Wednesday afternoon. “Hillary is a birther! By the way, don’t switch your votes to Hillary please. But Hillary is the one that started it. Check it out, 2008.”
Trump had previously made the claim in a tweet to his 4.2 million followers, and on Fox News, where he said Clinton’s first presidential campaign was “where it began.”
In an interview Wednesday on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” a popular black radio program, Clinton called the claim “totally untrue.” “That is so ludicrous,” she told guest host Don Lemon of CNN when asked if Obama ever confronted her about it. “That first of all, it’s totally untrue. And secondly, the president and I have never had any kind of confrontation like that.”
She added that trump was “feeding prejudice and paranoia” and said people have to “stand against it.” “I have been blamed for nearly everything, that was a new one for me,” she added.
In the dying days of Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, some her die-hard supporters were indeed the first to spread the rumor that Obama was not born in the U.S., and thus ineligible to serve as president, according to FactCheck.org and numerous media reports. But there’s no evidence the Clinton campaign itself was behind the conspiracy theories.
A source familiar with her 2008 campaign’s opposition research effort has told msnbc that the campaign looked into the claims, but found nothing to support them and denied that campaign circulated the questions about Obama’s eligibility to serve to supporters or reporters.
The campaign did, however, actively propagate the notion that Obama was somehow foreign.
Clinton’s top strategist, Mark Penn, circulated a memo in March 2007 on Obama’s “Lack of American Roots,” urging the campaign to highlight his “diverse, multicultural” roots and the fact that he is “not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.” The memo was made public after the collapse of her campaign.
Clinton’s campaign also pushed out controversial sermons delivered by Obama’s former minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Clinton told reporters “he would not have been my pastor.” In a “60 Minutes” interview, Clinton said there was no evidence Obama is a Muslim “as far as I know.”
But even if Clinton supporters first planted the initial seed of birtherism, it only took root because of the fertile soil the theory found in the hardcore anti-Obama right.
Before Trump took up the cause, birtherism spread thanks to conservatives like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his crackdowns on alleged illegal immigration, who detailed a team of investigators to look into whether Obama’s birth certificate was fabricated.
And it was validated thanks to Republican leaders, like the members of Congress who supported a so-called “birther bill” in the House, or the ones who said things like, “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States … But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American.” Or the state lawmakers who introduced their own “birther bills.”
The myth was perpetuated by tea party activists, as many as 30% of whom thought Obama was born in another country, according to a 2010 New York Times/CBS News poll.