Call it ricochet politics. First, a questioner at a New Hampshire rally for Donald Trump repeats the lie that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Trump fails to correct him and faces a round of questions as to why he didn’t. Then the host of NBC’s Meet the Press asks Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson if it would be okay to have a Muslim president and Carson said, "I absolutely would not agree with that."
This prompts Hillary Clinton to tweet, "Can a Muslim be President of the United States of America? In a word: Yes. Now let's move on."
Then Trump responds with a tweet of his own. "Just remember, the birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008. She was all in!"
The birther movement refers to the long-running myth that Obama was not born in the United States and thus, under the Constitution, could not be president. Trump promoted this belief avidly for several years with anyone who would listen. This week, Trump told Late Show host Stephen Colbert that he doesn’t "talk about it anymore."
Did Clinton not just start the birther movement but back it wholeheartedly by being "all in"?
The paper trail
The allegation about Obama’s birthplace tracks back to the bruising 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Clinton. According to a Telegraph article, as early as April 2008, a Clinton supporter passed around an email that questioned where Obama was born.
"Barack Obama’s mother was living in Kenya with his Arab-African father late in her pregnancy," it said. "She was not allowed to travel by plane then, so Barack Obama was born there and his mother then took him to Hawaii to register his birth."
The cry that Obama was not a legitimate candidate grew much louder in June 2008.
On June 7, 2008, Clinton conceded and called for all Democrats to rally behind Obama. Some in her party did not care to listen. By June 10, 2008, opponents to Obama were posting on a website called Pumaparty.com. PUMA stood for Party Unity My Ass. The website encouraged frustrated Clinton supporters to back the Republican nominee.
John Avlon, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, explored the roots of the birther movement in his book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America. Avlon described a posting on the PUMA website with the heading "Obama May Be Illegal to Be Elected President!" He wrote that a Clinton volunteer in Texas, Linda Starr, played a key role in spreading the rumor.
Starr connected with Pennsylvania attorney Philip Berg in August and Berg followed up by suing in federal court to block Obama’s nomination. The suit was thrown out repeatedly on the grounds that Berg lacked standing and the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear his appeal.
There is no record that Clinton herself or anyone within her campaign ever advanced the charge that Obama was not born in the United States. A review by our fellow fact-checkers at Factcheck.org reported that no journalist who investigated this ever found a connection to anyone in the Clinton organization.
Clinton, herself, answered this very accusation after Trump's tweet during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon. Lemon asked Clinton if she started smear campaigns that Obama was born outside the United States.
"That is – no. That is so ludicrous, Don. You know, honestly, I just believe that, first of all, it’s totally untrue, and secondly, you know, the president and I have never had any kind of confrontation like that," Clinton said. "You know, I have been blamed for nearly everything, that was a new one to me."
We should note that the birther rumor is distinct from the myth about Obama’s religion, which is what got the ball rolling at the Trump event in New Hampshire.
Trump said that Clinton started the birther movement and "was all in."
It’s an interesting bit of history that the birther movement appears to have begun with Democrats supporting Clinton and opposing Obama. But Trump, and others who have made this claim, neglect to mention that there is no direct tie to Clinton or her 2008 campaign.
The story appears to have started with supporters of Clinton, an important distinction.
Trump goes on to completely distort the chain of events by claiming Clinton "was all in" on the birther movement. Most of the talk started after Clinton suspended her presidential campaign. And the only thing she officially has ever done is deny any accusation of starting a whisper campaign.
We rate this claim False.
Donald Trump, tweet, Sept. 22, 2015
Daily Beast, The 'Birthers' Began on the Left, Feb. 7, 2010
Telegraph, Birther row began with Hillary Clinton, April 27, 2011
Internet Archive, Puma Party home page, June 22, 2008
Factcheck.org, Was Hillary Clinton the Original ‘Birther’?, July 2, 2015
RealClearPolitics.com, Hillary Clinton: "Totally Untrue" That My Campaign Started Rumor Obama Was Muslim, Not Born In America, Sept. 23, 2015
Daily News, Dust up over Somali photo has Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fighting hard, Feb. 26, 2008
Associated Press, Clinton Campaign Seeks Resignation Of 2nd Volunteer In Obama Flap, Dec. 10, 2007
The Stranger, Clinton Backer Pushed False Obama-is-Muslim Story, Dec. 5, 2007
Associated Press,Clinton volunteer coordinator resigns over e-mail claiming Obama is Muslim, Dec. 6, 2007
Hillary Clinton, tweet, Sept. 21, 2015
ABC News, Clinton Concedes Democratic Nomination; Obama Leads Party in Fall June 7, 2008
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