David Weigel at the Washington Post* claims to debunk Donald Trump’s claim that Hillary Clinton first stoked the idea that Barack Obama is not an American citizen:
This is simply not true. Clinton’s campaign, one of the most thoroughly dissected in modern history, never raised questions about the future president’s citizenship. The idea that it did is based largely on a series of disconnected actions by supporters of Clinton, mostly in the months between Obama’s reaction to the Jeremiah Wright story and the Democratic National Convention. I know, because I spent/wasted quite a lot of time covering this stuff.
On the same day as Weigel’s defense of Hillary’s campaign, the Associated Press ran its own “fact check”: “NO CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT CLINTON AIDED BIRTHERS.” That story follows below:
WASHINGTON (AP) — When GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump doubled down Wednesday on his previous claim that rival Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton played a key role in sparking “birther” critics who insist President Barack Obama is not a native-born American, his charge was based on little more than a vague Clinton comment from 2008 and old political rumors.
“Just remember,” Trump tweeted the night before his speech Wednesday, “the birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008. She was all in!” In June, Trump’s GOP rival Ted Cruz also blamed Clinton’s 2008 campaign for starting the birther movement, which rallied around the dubious allegation that Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii, despite a legal Hawaiian birth certificate that proved otherwise.
The charges that Clinton may have played a role in the birther movement may be conflating a vague 2008 comment she made during a television interview about Obama’s faith, as well as political rumors during the 2008 presidential campaign that suggested Clinton’s campaign was stoking concerns about Obama’s birthplace and religion.
During a March 2008 interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Clinton was asked by interviewer Steve Kroft whether she believed Obama was Muslim. Clinton replied: “No, there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.”
Some critics later suggested Clinton’s hedging “as far as I know” may have lent credence to those who charged Obama was not born in the U.S. – even though the comment referenced his faith, not his birthplace. Political rumors reported at times during the Democratic primary battle between Obama and Clinton in 2008 also intimated that some die-hard Clinton supporters were anonymously questioning Obama’s faith and U.S. birth.
An exasperated Clinton said Wednesday that any suggestions she helped spark the birther movement were “ludicrous.” Asked on The Tom Joyner Radio Show whether Obama raised the matter with her, Clinton told guest host Don Lemon, “The president and I have never had any confrontation like that.”
*Weigel writes for the Post now after a five-year absence; he resigned in 2010 after leaked emails from the secret listserv JournoList revealed intense contempt for the conservatives he was tasked with covering: joking about Rush Limbaugh dying, calling Matt Drudge an “amoral shut-in,” and calling conservatives crazy and racist.