Donald Trump has yet to take questions from reporters about why he finally decided Friday that President Barack Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, forcing some of his top surrogates to answer for him during Sunday morning news shows.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, all insisted that the issue has been put to rest, and they tried to turn attention to other matters.
Christie, who was interviewed on CNN, said that Trump accepted the president’s citizenship when Obama presented his long-form birth certificate in 2011 and that he dropped the issue then — which is an inaccurate account of events. Trump repeatedly questioned the validity of the document in 2011, and in August 2012, he tweeted that “an ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”
As a presidential candidate, Trump has continued to say in interviews that he didn’t know whether Obama was born in the U.S. In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Trump declined to answer questions about the president’s birthplace. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly suggested that the president might not be Christian or that he might sympathize with Islamic State militants.
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“It’s just not true that he kept it up for five years,” Christie said on CNN. “It’s simply not true … It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis until then. And when the issue was raised, he made very clear the other day what his position is.”
Christie also backed Trump’s assertion that Hillary Clinton started the “birther movement” during her 2008 campaign, an assertion that fact-checkers have repeatedly disproven. Christie referenced a comment made by former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle but inaccurately summarized what she said.
“It was a contentious issue, and — by the way — an issue that Patti Solis Doyle of the Clinton campaign of 2008 has recently admitted was an issue that Mrs. Clinton also injected into her campaign in 2008 in a very quiet but direct way against then-Sen. Obama,” Christie said.
Solis Doyle said on CNN on Friday that the campaign removed a volunteer in Iowa who had forwarded an email promoting the conspiracy theory.
“Hillary made the decision immediately to let that person go,” she said. “We let that person go.”
Solis Doyle gave this example to back up her assertion that the campaign had no role in spreading the rumor about the president’s birthplace. But the Trump campaign has pointed to this interview as proof that Clinton started the birther movement.
In interviews on Sunday morning, Conway highlighted a 2007 memo by Clinton strategist Mark Penn that suggested that she target Obama’s “lack of American roots” but never mentioned Obama’s birthplace, and cited a former McClatchy Washington Bureau chief as saying Friday that Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton confidant, urged him to look into the president’s place of birth. Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, said Sunday on CNN that “Blumenthal has categorically denied that.”
“While the Clintons were pushing this theory, [Trump] was a successful businessman, he was building things,” Conway said on CBS News.
When she was asked why Trump spent five years pushing this conspiracy theory about the president, Conway responded, “Well, you’re going to have to ask him.”
Pence seemed to struggle to answer questions on ABC News about Trump’s role in the birther movement, repeatedly trying to change the topic. Pence said that there are reporters who trace the “birther movement all the way back to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008″ and that “the facts speak for themselves,” although he wouldn’t list any such facts.
At one point, host Martha Raddatz asked Pence, “Why did it take him so long to put it to an end?”
“It’s over,” Pence responded.
To that, Raddatz said, “It’s not over.”