Updated at 10:50 p.m.
Donald Trump refused to say whether he believes President Obama was born in the United States in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday.
But in a statement hours later from the GOP nominee’s spokesman, the campaign claimed Trump does indeed believe the president was born in Hawaii.
The ongoing “birther” saga is one that’s spanned years, going back to 2011, when Trump very publicly embraced the conspiracy theory about the country’s first African-American president.
When asked point-blank by The Post‘s Robert Costa during an interview in Ohio, Trump again dodged the question of whether he accepts that the president is indeed a natural-born U.S citizen.
“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
“I don’t talk about it anymore,” he tried to explain. “The reason I don’t is because then everyone is going to be talking about it — as opposed to jobs, the military, the vets, security.”
Trump campaign then released a statement — not from Trump himself, but from senior communications adviser Jason Miller — claiming victory for Trump forcing Obama to release his long-form birth certificate, and saying that, because of that evidence, Trump now “believes that President Obama was born in the United States.”
Here’s Miller’s full statement:
“Hillary Clinton’s campaign first raised this issue to smear then-candidate Barack Obama in her very nasty, failed 2008 campaign for President. This type of vicious and conniving behavior is straight from the Clinton Playbook. As usual, however, Hillary Clinton was too weak to get an answer. Even the MSNBC show Morning Joe admits that it was Clinton’s henchmen who first raised this issue, not Donald J. Trump.
“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. Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.
“Mr. Trump is now totally focused on bringing jobs back to America, defeating radical Islamic terrorism, taking care of our veterans, introducing school choice opportunities and rebuilding and making our inner cities safe again.”
The notion that it was Clinton’s 2008 campaign that began the birther movement is one that has been disproved. In 2015, PolitiFact found such a claim to be false. “Clinton’s campaign, one of the most thoroughly dissected in modern history, never raised questions about the future president’s citizenship. The idea that it did is based largely on a series of disconnected actions by supporters of Clinton, mostly in the months between Obama’s reaction to the Jeremiah Wright story and the Democratic National Convention,” The Post‘s David Weigel reported last year.
The statement coming from Miller — and not from Trump himself — is roughly the same as what other top Trump aides have been saying for the past week.
“He believes President Obama was born here,” campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN last week. “I was born in Camden, by the way, New Jersey. He was born in Hawaii.”
Trump’s response to his campaign manager’s comments in the Post invterview: “It’s OK — she’s allowed to speak what she thinks. I want to focus on jobs. I want to focus on other things.”
His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said earlier this month that he accepts the fact that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also claimed just last week that the GOP nominee now accepts the president’s legal birthplace.
“Donald Trump believes now that [Obama] was born in the United States,” Giuliani said on CNN. “I believe it. He believes it. We all believe it. It took a long time to get out.”
But while his top surrogates are circulating assertions that Trump has dropped any birther beliefs, the Republican nominee still refuses to say the words, and is keeping the issue alive.
And Trump already has reiterated this cycle that he — not campaign managers or spokesmen — is the only one who truly speaks for his campaign.
Trump championed the fringe theory about Obama — who some believed was born in Kenya and might even be a secret Muslim — during the 2012 election cycle, and was its largest driving force, as the New York Times explored earlier this year:
“In the birther movement, Mr. Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president. He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.”
The White House eventually released President Obama’s long-form birth certificate in 2011 — showing that he was, indeed, born in Honolulu in 1961.
Just as that was happening, Trump landed in New Hampshire while flirting with a presidential bid, and claimed victory.
“I’m very proud of myself,” Trump said. “I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.”
Even after that, he continued to raise doubts about the birth certificate’s authenticity.
Hillary Clinton didn’t waste any time Thursday night responding to Trump’s initial comments. Less than two hours after The Post published its interview with Trump, Clinton spoke at an event hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: “He still wouldn’t say ‘Hawaii.’ He still wouldn’t say ‘America.’ This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?”
She also referred to how Trump has tried to refocus his campaign on an affirmative message and avoid more controversial statements.
“This is the best he can do. This is who he is,” Clinton said.
Arnie Seipel contributed.