WASHINGTON, D.C. — After years of controversy, Donald Trump has finally abandoned the so-called birther conspiracy he has waged against President Obama, publicly acknowledging for the first time Friday that he believes Obama was born in the United States.
It was a sharp reversal of a conspiracy theory Trump has clung to for years, dating back to 2011, when he publicly questioned Obama’s citizenship as he mused about his own White House run. This year, as the Republican presidential nominee, Trump had repeatedly refused to say whether he believed Obama was born in the U.S. — including in a Washington Post interview published online Thursday night.
On Friday morning, under amid criticism from his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and even some Republicans, Trump finally answered the question, adding that he was ready to move on. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” the GOP nominee declared. “Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump’s comments came in the final moments of an unusual 35-minute event at his new hotel here, just blocks from the White House. Initially billed as a press conference by campaign aides, it alternated between Trump showing off his newest property — “Nice hotel,” he said as he took the podium — and showcasing his support from military veterans. Before the candidate addressed the topic of Obama’s birthplace, several veterans spoke, including one who praised Trump’s “temperament” and “stamina” on the trail. It seemed to be an attempt to offer a contrast to Clinton, who returned to campaigning Thursday after a bout with pneumonia.
Trump aides hoped the statement would bring a definitive end to a controversy that has threatened to overshadow his bid for the presidency as it enters the final stretch. But as with many things during this unusual campaign season involving Trump, it was not so simple.
The celebrity businessman did not offer an apology to Obama or an explanation of how he came to change his view. And though he was once considered a leader of the so-called birther movement, he instead tried to pin the origins of it on Clinton. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump asserted. “I finished it.” Fact-checkers rejected Trump’s claim that Clinton started the conspiracy movement.
And though aides had suggested he would take questions, Trump simply walked away from the podium and the six rows of Trump supporters who were there. The decision prompted near-pandemonium in the back of the room, where reporters were seated. Journalists, including some who stood on their chairs to be seen over audience, began shouting to get Trump’s attention. “Mr. Trump, will you take questions?” one yelled. “What took you so long?” another boomed.
Some Trump supporters turned around and began booing members of the media, while others began to chant, “USA! USA! USA!” At the front of the room, Trump looked at reporters and smiled before exiting.
But tensions continued as Trump aides began to assemble the candidate’s traveling press pool as he took aides on a tour of his new hotel. Campaign workers blocked print and wire reporters as well as wire photographers. They allowed a television camera, but not the producer — breaking typical campaign protocol.
The move came less than 24 hours after Trump, who does not travel with reporters on his plane, began an event in New Hampshire despite the delay of the charter plane that ferries his traveling press corps to his events. On stage there, Trump mocked reporters, boasting about ditching them. “I just heard the press is stuck on their airplane,” he declared. “They can’t get here. I love it!”
On Friday, as Trump led a television crew through his hotel, reporters and photographers remained in the ballroom where his event was held, but they weren’t left without anything to cover. Just minutes after the event concluded, the large backdrop — which included draping, Trump campaign signs, and several American flags — suddenly collapsed.