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Donald Trump kept lying about his role in birtherism during the debate

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Just 10 days ago, Donald Trump announced for the first time that he now believed President Barack Obama was born in the United States — five years after he burst onto the political scene by questioning that fact.

So during the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton on Monday, moderator Lester Holt asked the GOP nominee an obvious question: "What took you so long?"

Trump didn’t answer Holt’s question but instead responded with a barrage of barely comprehensible, conspiratorial accusations intended to put the blame for birtherism on Hillary Clinton (we’ll outline them further down) while then claiming that he did a "good job" by getting Obama "to produce the birth certificate."

Yet, as I wrote last week, Obama had actually released his shortform birth certificate back in 2008. And when he did finally dredge up his longform birth certificate in 2011, Trump refused to accept it. Instead, he continued to spread conspiracies about it for years afterward, suggesting again and again that the birth certificate the president released was phony.

And Holt made sure the audience knew it.

HOLT: The birth certificate was produced in 2011, you continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14,’ 15—

TRUMP: Yeah.

HOLT: As recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?

Trump basically responded by saying he didn’t think it was a big deal. "Well, nobody was pressing it, nobody was caring much about it; I figured you’d ask the question tonight, of course, but nobody was caring much about it. But I was the one who got him to produce the birth certificate, and I did a good job."

Asked for her take, Clinton feigned speechless. "Just listen to what you heard!" she said, to laughter from the audience. She continued: "It can't be dismissed that easily. He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted."

Trump’s newest birther conspiracy lies, debunked

So let’s take a closer look at how Trump tried to foist blame for birtherism on Clinton’s 2008 campaign:

TRUMP: Sidney Blumenthal, works for the campaign, and close, very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager Patti Doyle went to — during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard. And you can go look it up, and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer, saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent a highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. They were pressing it very hard. She failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate.

Here, Trump is trying to change the subject from his well-documented, consistent, years-long birtherism by using some thinly sourced or misrepresented anecdotes to suggest it’s all Clinton’s fault.

  • Sidney Blumenthal informally advised Clinton in 2008 and indisputably tried to spread negative rumors about Obama back then, often by emailing reporters. Dylan Matthews profiled him here. However, Blumenthal has never been definitively tied to spreading the birth certificate rumor and has repeatedly denied doing so.
  • Now, there is a former Washington bureau chief at McClatchy, James Asher, who tweeted last week that Blumenthal "told me in person #Obama born in #kenya." But a new report by Asher’s former employer McClatchy concluded that it could not verify this claim. Indeed, in an email Blumenthal sent Asher at the time, he discussed Kenya but mentioned nothing about the birth certificate, instead suggesting McClatchy look into supposed disrespectful comments Obama made about his father during a visit there.
  • Asher did not send a reporter to Kenya to look into it. Instead, McClatchy already had a reporter in the country. That reporter recently told the organization that he couldn’t recall if he specifically discussed the birther claim with Asher.
  • Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, recently went on CNN and affirmed that the Clinton campaign had nothing to do with the birther movement. And she mentioned that when an unpaid volunteer coordinator for the campaign emailed around birth certificate rumors, Clinton fired the person "immediately."

Again, the bigger picture here is that there’s zero evidence that Clinton or her senior campaign leadership had anything to do with birtherism in 2008. And Trump’s loud, continuous questioning of Obama’s birthplace — for years after Obama released his birth certificate! — is on a far different level from anything Trump even alleges here.

Overall, Trump refuses to take responsibility for spreading those lies, and is trying to distract voters from it with more lies.

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