How Donald Trump Perpetuated the 'Birther' Movement for Years

A look at the trajectory of Donald Trump's role in the birther movement.

ByABC News
September 16, 2016, 4:27 PM

— -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time today that President Obama was born in the United States -- after years of leading the "birther" movement, casting doubt on the president's birthplace and fueling a raft of conspiracy theories.

Trump, in fact, refused to acknowledge that Obama was born in Hawaii even yesterday in an interview published in the Washington Post, more than five years after the president released his long-form birth certificate.

The real estate mogul repeatedly called for the President to release his full birth certificate and questioned the authenticity of the documents once he did so. As a presidential candidate, he has declined to say the President was born in the United States -- until today.

Here is how Trump's "birther" campaign unfolded.


Following a successful Conservative Political Action Conference appearance where Trump announced he is considering a run for the presidency, he begins appearing on talk shows urging President Obama to release his birth certificate and questioning if he was born in the United States.

"I want him to show his birth certificate. There is something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like," he said in an appearance on ABC's "The View." On "Fox & Friends," Trump insisted Obama spent "millions of dollars in legal fees trying to get away from this issue," and floated the idea on Bill O'Reilly's show that the certificate could say the president is a Muslim.

Trump also claimed that he dispatched a team of investigator "and they cannot believe what they’re finding," he said on the "Today" show.

In April of that year, in an unusual move, Obama released his long-form birth certificate, stating in fact that he was born in Hawaii. Trump held a press conference where he took credit for the development, but said he still needed to assess the document.


Trump decides not to run for president, but continues to use media appearances and social media to question the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate.

That October, one month before the election, Trump releases a YouTube video claiming he will give $5 million to charity of the President’s choice if he releases his passport/college applications and records.


Trump did fewer media appearances speaking about this issue. But when he spoke with ABC News' Jon Karl in August 2013 in Iowa, he said he was still unsure about the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate.

"Some people say that was not his birth certificate. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I’m saying I don’t know. Nobody knows," he told Karl.

That December, he questioned why theState Health Director who verified Obama's birth certificate died in a plane crash while others on board lived.


Speaking at the National Press Club, Trump says he doesn’t regret questioning President Obama’s citizenship, and there’s a “chance” he was born in the United States. He also speculates that President Obama wrote he was born in Kenya on his college applications to receive more financial aid.

"So look there are three things that could happen. And one of them did happen. He was perhaps born in Kenya. Very simple, okay. He was perhaps born in this country but said that he was born in Kenya. Because if you said you were born in Kenya, you got aid and you got into colleges. And people were doing that," Trump said. "So perhaps he was born in this country, that has a very big chance. Or you know, who knows."

Trump also urged hackers to authenticate President Obama’s birthplace:


After Trump announces his presidential candidacy in June, he begins appearing frequently on cable and talk shows. During these appearances, he refuses to say if President Obama was born in the United States. "No. I don't know. I really don't know," he said in a July interview with Anderson Cooper. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos presses him about this on "This Week" in September, and he declines to answer. "I don't get into it. And I just don’t talk about it," he said.

Two days after this interview, he tweets that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement.

Politifact has debunked that claim, saying in 2015 that the theory started with Clinton supporters in 2008, not the candidate herself. The organization said there is also no "direct tie" to the campaign and Clinton has denied being behind the rumors.


Trump has also said with great alacrity on the campaign trail the president's middle name -- Hussein -- a move employed by some who believe Obama is a Muslim. Specifically, he repeated it when claiming that the president was the founder of ISIS.

"He is the founder of ISIS," he said during a rally in Florida in August. "He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton."

On Sept. 15, Trump again refuses to say if President Obama was born in the United States. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump refuses to say if President Obama was born in the United States in an interview.

"I’ll answer that question at the right time," he said. "I just don’t want to answer it yet."

This is despite a number of surrogates saying on the campaign trail that Obama was born in the U.S.

That same day, his campaign releases a statement saying Trump believes President Obama was born in America, and repeats the claim Hillary Clinton’s campaign sparked the birther movement.

The next day, Trump, speaking from his new property in Washington DC, reiterates his belief that Clinton started the birther movement, but concedes President Obama was born in the United States.

"Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy," he said. "I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States period. Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

--ABC News' Emily Friedman and Ryan Struyk contributed reporting.

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