“I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate,” Trump said at the first presidential debate, fending off criticism that his skepticism about the first African-American president’s citizenship, expressed over a period of many years, was motivated by race.
“We’re talking about racial healing in this segment,” moderator Lester Holt reminded Trump, who responded that he “says nothing” to those who were offended by his birther crusade because he forced the president to “produce” his long-form birth certificate.
Holt continued to press Trump on why he continued the birther effort even after Obama released it in 2011. As recently as January, Trump expressed doubt that Obama was born in this country.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called Trump’s birtherism a “racist lie” on which he began his foray into politics, characterizing it as a precursor to his White House bid.
“There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted,” Clinton said. “He persisted year after year because some of his supporters—people that he was trying to bring into his fold—apparently believed it or wanted to believe it.”
The Republican presidential nominee also mentioned his recent outreach attempts to the black community as an example of his “good relationships” with African Americans, despite polling in the single digits among black voters.
As for his years-long push to question the first black president’s country of birth, Trump said he is “satisfied” because he was successful while Clinton “failed” to get Obama to disclose his birth certificate.
“I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country, but even for the president, in getting him to produce his birth certificate,” Trump repeated.
In response to Trump, Clinton mentioned that he was sued by the Department of Justice in 1973 for discrimination at his apartment buildings.
Trump also claimed that a former Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal, was among the first to spread the “birther” rumor in order to discredit Obama in 2008, an unproven claim Trump has repeatedly made.
In the post-debate spin room, Trump doubled down on the false claim involving Blumenthal and the campaign manager of Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, Patti Solis Doyle. Trump claimed Doyle fired a staffer because that individual had started the birther chatter, but Doyle said on CNN after the debate—as she has several times previously—that the junior staffer was fired for forwarding an email claiming that Obama was a Muslim.
The GOP nominee admitted for the first time earlier this month that Obama was born in the United States, “period.” Clinton called that admission, coming after years of suggestions by Trump that Obama was an illegitimate president, a “sickening display.”