Axios reporter Jonathan Swan interviewed White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner over the weekend and pressed him on an issue more rightfully asked of Hillary Clinton. The question was about Donald Trump’s former embrace of birtherism, the false idea that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. The president disavowed the concept in September 2016, two months before he was elected. Swan also asked Kushner if he thought birtherism was racist to which Kushner responded, “Look, I wasn’t really involved in that,” thoughtfully adding it “was a long time ago.”
Why was Kushner being asked this question? If Swan wanted to know about birtherism and whether it was racist or not he should have asked Hillary Clinton or her aide who spread the canard, Sidney Blumenthal.
There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton ever said publicly that she believes Barack Obama wasn’t a natural born citizen. But there is plenty of evidence that the birther hoax was born in her camp.
It started with the “Obama is a Muslim” claim floated in 2004 by perennial Illinois political candidate, serial litigant, and anti-Semite Andy Martin. Martin is recognized as the person who began the whisper campaign against Obama in August 2004 after Obama’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. (As an aside, Martin kept changing names and parties to be able to run for office, but every time he was found out, the nominating party would drop him like a hot potato. Once he promised if elected to “exterminate Jew Power in America,” explaining that Jews are “schooled in bloodsucking and money-grubbing from birth.”
Martin’s claim about Obama morphed into another: that Obama was educated in an Indonesian “madrassa” and that he was some sort of “Manchurian Candidate.”
During Hillary’s primary run against Obama, the Manchurian candidate claimed turned into the birther claim. This is how it happened.
In 2007 Mark Penn, the top campaign strategist for Hillary’s campaign wrote a memo about Obama that said in part:
I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.
He advised the campaign to target Obama’s “lack of American roots”:
Every speech should contain the line that you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century, And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child, and that drive you today. Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. … Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds [of campaign events].
Politifact reported on the next step:
In the fall of 2007, it was clear that Clinton was losing ground in Iowa. The presumptive front runner was vulnerable and people in the campaign knew it. On Dec. 5, 2007, the online magazine Politico posted the text of an email that had been forwarded by Judy Rose, the volunteer chair of the Clinton campaign in Jones County Iowa on Nov. 21, 2007. The email was a quintessential smear that offered a distorted biography of Obama’s early years. Rose offered no commentary on it. She simply passed it along.
“Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim,” the email said, and it ended with, “The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the U.S. from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level – through the President of the United States, one of their own!!!!”
When Rose’s letter became public a few months after she sent it around the Clinton camp, she was forced to resign.
In February of 2008 Hillary’s campaign was accused by the Obama campaign of releasing a picture of Barack Obama wearing traditional Somali dress. The picture itself was taken in Kenya. The suggestion was clear: Here is a man who may not be American. It was a perfect followup to Penn’s memo. And when the Obama campaign complained they were trying to portray him as a foreigner, then-campaign manager Maggie Williams issued a statement that said:
If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.
This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.
We will not be distracted.
The Clinton Campaign didn’t admit they released the photo. But as you can see in this video from CBS’s “60 Minutes,” when Hillary Clinton was asked directly if she believed Obama was a Muslim, she gave one of those political denials that didn’t quite close the door.
Liberals Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski acknowledged that Hillary Clinton started the “Obama isn’t Christian” myth and never said it was false.
The “not a Christian” canard morphed into the birther hoax. In 2011, Politico did an investigation into the origins of the birther myth. They found that the entire concept started with the Clinton campaign in 2008.
The answer lies in Democratic, not Republican politics, and in the bitter, exhausting spring of 2008, At the time, the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from Hillary Clinton and some of her most passionate supporters grasped for something, anything that would deal a final reversal to Barack Obama.
According to the article, an early version of the birther myth was published by the Chicago Tribune in June 2008 in an article titled “Is Barack Obama a U.S. Citizen? Yes.” The Tribune article was beating back a rumor that basically said while the future president was born in the U.S., his father was Kenyan and his mother was only 18 years old and because she was young he wasn’t an automatic citizen.
Anyway, this particular post, whose authorship is unclear, suggests that Obama is “not legally a U.S. natural-born citizen under to the law on the books at the time of his birth…”. According to the poster, if only one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of birth, the citizen-parent “must have resided in the United States for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16.” Obama’s father, of course, was not an American citizen, having been born in Kenya. That leaves his mother, who was a natural-born citizen, but who was only 18 when Obama was born, on August 4, 1961. In the poster’s opinion, Obama fails the constitutional test because his citizen-mother had not resided in the U.S. for five years after the age of 16–not old enough, at the time of Obama’s birth, “to qualify her son for automatic U.S. citizenship.”
The Tribune gave a legalistic answer to why that suggestion is wrong, which you can read about. However, the bottom line was that the charge was bogus.
That didn’t stop some of Hillary’s people from launching a whisper campaign. James Asher, who worked for McClatchy newspapers, stated in a since-deleted tweeted out in September 2016:
— James Asher (@jimasher) September 16, 2016
Later he spoke sent an email to his former colleagues expanding his account beyond the 140 character twitter limit:
During the 2008 Democratic primary, Sid Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Co.,” Asher said in an email Friday to McClatchy, noting that he was at the time the investigative editor and in charge of Africa coverage.
During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya. We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false. [Emphasis added]
At the time of Mr. Blumenthal’s conversation with me, there had been a few news articles published in various outlets reporting on rumors about Obama’s birthplace. While Mr. Blumenthal offered no concrete proof of Obama’s Kenyan birth, I felt that, as journalists, we had a responsibility to determine whether or not those rumors were true. They were not.
Sid Blumenthal contacted the Boston Globe via email and vehemently denied Asher’s story. “This is false. Period,’’ Blumenthal wrote. But during the 2008 primary season, it was no secret that Blumenthal was trying to smear Obama. Blogging for Huffington Post, in May 2008, Peter Dreier wrote all about it:
Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama’s character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren’t being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers — including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers — in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.
Blumenthal’s campaign mudslinging against Obama was the reason why Obama wouldn’t let Hillary hire him for at the State Department.
Later in 2008, as an act of desperation, Hillary Clinton supporters angry that their “chosen one” was about to lose to a different “chosen one,” began to circulate letters claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. Many were from an anti-Obama Democratic party group called P.U.M.A (Party Unity My Ass). As John Avalon wrote at the Daily Beast in 2010.:
Investigations for my new book, Wingnuts, revealed that the Birther conspiracy theory was first concocted by renegade members of the original Obama haters, Party Unity My Ass, known more commonly by their acronym, the PUMAs. They were a splinter group of hard-core Hillary Clinton supporters who did not want to give up the ghost after the bitter 50-state Bataan Death March to the 2008 Democratic nomination.
In the early summer of ’08, message boards on sites like PUMAParty.com began lighting up with the ultimate reversal-of-fortune fantasy—that their party’s nomination could be overturned on constitutional grounds. “Obama May Be Illegal to Be Elected President!” read one representative e-mail: “This came from a USNA [U.S. Naval Academy] alumnus. It’ll be interesting to see how the media handle this…WRITE TO YOUR LOCAL newspaper editors etc. Keep this out there everyday possible. Also write to the DNC too!”
This version was independently supported in the Telegraph:
It was not until April 2008, at the height of the intensely bitter Democratic presidential primary process, that the touch paper was properly lit.
An anonymous email circulated by supporters of Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama’s main rival for the party’s nomination, thrust a new allegation into the national spotlight — that he had not been born in Hawaii.
The man who emerged as the leader of the PUMA birther movement was a guy named Philip Berg, a former Pennsylvania deputy attorney general who had suggested George W. Bush was involved in the 9/11 terror attacks. Berg was urged by Linda Starr, a Texas-based Clinton volunteer, to file one of the first lawsuits over Obama’s birth certificate (per the Daily Beast’s Avlon):
In the first week of August 2008, as the Democrats were getting ready for their convention in Denver, Starr called Philadelphia attorney Philip Berg and offered a challenge. Berg recalled the conversation for me: “She called me up and said, ‘Have you heard about Obama not being national born?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Well, now it’s for real, and you’re the only attorney in the country with brass balls enough to sue Obama.’”
Berg also had been a Clinton supporter, and a former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania and a serial unsuccessful Democratic campaigner for statewide office. He also had a reputation as an enthusiastic litigant: In 2004, he filed a 9/11 Truther lawsuit against Bush, alleging that the government allowed the terrorist attacks to happen and that the World Trade Center was destroyed from within. Now he had a new conspiracy to push.
Sadly, after the Clinton supporters hatched the birther hoax, the story switched sides. Rumors that Obama was not a natural-born American began to seduce many of the conservative rank and file, desperate to prevent Obama’s far-left policies from becoming law.
But after a week or two, most Republicans began to drift away from the birther belief, especially after the Obama campaign responded by posting a copy of his “certificate of live birth.” But the fact it was not the full, original certificate with the fully raised seal and that the campaign failed to show the serial number and other details in the scan they posted prompted some people cling to the birther story. Yet the hospital was not allowed to release the long form birth certificate without Obama’s permission — which he didn’t give until 2011.
The fact still remains that Team Clinton started the birther movement and never disavowed it, as then-candidate Donald Trump did in Sept. 2016 when he said, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.”
That is why it is odd that Jonathan Swan brought up the birther subject to Kushner during the interview, unless his purpose was to bash Trump.
Cross posted at The Lid