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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Trump International Hotel, Sept. 16, 2016, in Washington. (Getty) Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Trump International Hotel, Sept. 16, 2016, in Washington. (Getty)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Trump International Hotel, Sept. 16, 2016, in Washington. (Getty)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 16, 2016

Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that he 'finished' the Obama birther talk

After years of promoting the theory that President Barack Obama was born in a foreign country -- one that has been consistently debunked by fact-checkers -- Donald Trump reversed course on Sept. 16, 2016, and said Obama was born in the United States.

"President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period," Trump said while briefly addressing the subject at the end of a campaign event at his newly built hotel in Washington.

We’ve separately ruled this a Full Flop. But Trump’s other remarks on the so-called "birther" controversy have inspired fact-checks of their own.

Trump prefaced his statement about Obama’s birthplace by saying, "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean."

We rated the first part of that claim that "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy" False.

Here, we’ll fact-check the assertion that Trump "finished it."

We didn’t hear back from the Trump campaign, but the evening before Trump’s announcement in Washington, Jason Miller, a senior communications adviser with the campaign, sent out a news release saying in part, "In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised."

So it appears that the campaign’s argument is that Trump pushed for Obama to release the long form of his Hawaii birth certificate on April 27, 2011, several years after the birther controversy bubbled up. Previously, a shorter version of the document had been available, but skeptics had been calling for the full document to be released.

Trump himself had made this case as early as Aug. 22, 2013, when he tweeted, "Why are people upset w/ me over Pres Obama’s birth certificate? I got him to release it, or whatever it was, when nobody else could!"

But for Trump’s argument to hold water, we see two conditions that have to be met. First, did Trump "finish" advocating for the birther viewpoint once Obama released the long-form birth certificate? And second, did Obama’s release of the long-form certificate "finish" the idea among American voters that Obama was born outside the United States?

In both cases, the answer is no.

Trump’s continued birther tweets

Slate has produced a comprehensive index to the tweets by Trump -- all made after Obama’s document release in 2011 -- in which the real-estate magnate either openly advocated birtherism or promoted skepticism about the official story of Obama’s birth.

The list includes about three dozen examples between November 2011 and November 2014. Here’s a sampling:

July 17, 2012: "I wonder what the answer is on @BarackObama's college application to the question: place of birth? Maybe the same as his book cover? Release your records, Mr. President!"

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July 20, 2012: "With @BarackObama listing himself as "Born in Kenya" in 1999 HI laws allowed him to produce a fake certificate. #SCAM"

Aug. 6, 2012: "An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud."

Aug. 27, 2012: "Why do the Republicans keep apologizing on the so called "birther" issue? No more apologies--take the offensive!"

Sept. 13, 2012: "Wake Up America! See article: "Israeli Science: Obama Birth Certificate is a Fake""

June 29, 2014: "Always remember, I was the one who got Obama to release his birth certificate, or whatever that was! Hilary couldn't, McCain couldn't."

Sept. 6, 2014: "Attention all hackers: You are hacking everything else so please hack Obama's college records (destroyed?) and check ‘place of birth’"

Public opinion about Obama’s birthplace

The birther controversy never actually ended, either, judging by the polls.

For starters, the birth certificate release itself didn't eliminate skepticism within the public about Obama’s birthplace -- not even close.

At least two surveys looked at the question shortly before and shortly after Obama’s document release. Gallup asked whether respondents would say Obama was "probably or definitely born in another country" and found that the number dropped from 24 percent before the release in April 2011 to 13 percent after the release in May 2011. And YouGov asked whether "Barack Obama was born in the United States." Before the release, 15 percent of respondent said "false," a number that dropped to 13 percent after the release.

Thirteen percent is not a trivial number of people in a nation of more than 300 million people.

As time went on, polls by YouGov actually found rising numbers of respondents answering "false" "Barack Obama was born in the United States" -- 17 percent in January 2012 and 20 percent in July 2012.

And as recently as September 2015, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found 13 percent answering "another country" when asked, "Where was Barack Obama born, as far as you know?" That poll was taken more than four years after Obama released his long-form birth certificate.

Our ruling

Trump said of the birther controversy, "I finished it."

In no credible sense is this true. Trump didn’t "finish" fanning the flames of birther conspiracies once Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011 -- he kept tweeting about it for at least another three and a half years. And a core group of Americans hasn’t "finished" expressing birther sentiments. As recently as a year ago, various polls have found that 13 percent of Americans supported the viewpoint.

We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, remarks in Washington, D.C., Sept. 16, 2016

Donald Trump campaign, statement, Sept. 15, 2016, "All of Donald Trump's Birther Tweets," Sept. 16, 2016

Donald Trump tweets: July 17, 2012, July 20, 2012, Aug. 6, 2012, Aug. 27, 2012, Sept. 13, 2012, June 29, 2014, Sept. 6, 2014.

Barack Obama, long-form birth certificate, accessed Sept. 16, 2016

Gallup, "Obama's Birth Certificate Convinces Some, but Not All, Skeptics," May 13, 2011

CNN/ORC poll, Sept. 4-8, 2015

YouGov, "The Birthers are (Still) Back," July 11, 2012

Public Policy Polling, "Trump Supporters Think Obama is A Muslim Born in Another Country," Sept. 1, 2015

PolitiFact, "Full Flop: Donald Trump abandons Barack Obama birther conspiracy," Sept. 16, 2016

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Donald Trump's claim Hillary Clinton started Obama birther movement," Sept. 16, 2016

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More by Louis Jacobson

Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that he 'finished' the Obama birther talk

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