WASHINGTON — Donald Trump appeared to use the media to get free airtime for his hotel under the guise of making an announcement about his position on President Obama’s birth, an announcement he made only at the very end of the event and which was prefaced by his lying about Hillary Clinton having personally started birtherism.
The event combined many of the themes of Trump’s bid: a willingness to mix business and politics, a disrespectful attitude toward the media, and a reluctance to apologize or own up to false statements.
Trump had enticed dozens of members of the national media to his new hotel in downtown DC by promising a “major statement” after the issue of his birtherism flared up again this week. For nearly an hour after the event was supposed to start, nothing happened in the ballroom — which didn’t prevent the three main cable news networks from hyping the event during this period. And they stuck with Trump’s event when it began with no major statement at all, but instead a series of veteran surrogates led by Lt. Gen Mike Flynn as a tie-in to POW/MIA Recognition Day.
Trump led off by saying, “Nice hotel. Under budget and ahead of schedule,” and devoted more time to promoting his hotel than the purported theme of the event.
When Trump did turn to the topic at hand, he was uncharacteristically brief.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said at the end of his short speech. “I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”
Trump then walked off the stage as reporters, who had been confined to the back of the room so that supporters and other guests could sit up front, stood on chairs and shouted questions to him. Trump did not respond.
Trump then embarked on a tour of his new hotel from which most of the designated press pool was restricted. ABC News reporter Candace Smith tweeted that she had been “physically restrained” from accompanying the camera that was allowed to join Trump on the tour, despite the fact that she was the designated pool producer, a role that would involve her following the candidate into smaller spaces where full press cannot go. A source told BuzzFeed News that the television pool voted to pull the camera from Trump’s tour in protest and not air any of the footage. Print pooler Lesley Clark of McClatchy reported that the wire and print pools were “not invited nor notified” that the tour was happening.
Trump’s event came after he gave an interview to the Washington Post earlier this week in which he refused to say whether he now believes Obama was born in the United States. On Thursday night, Trump spokesman Jason Miller put out a statement saying that Trump believes Obama was born in this country, though it was still not Trump himself saying the words.
Trump’s rise in Republican politics was in part due to his fanning the flames of the birther issue and questioning, which endeared him to some conservative audiences. Even after Obama released his birth certificate, Trump questioned the document’s authenticity. And he raised questions about the birth certificate as recently as this year.
Trump is now claiming that it was Clinton who started the birther movement. While it’s true that top Clinton adviser Mark Penn encouraged Clinton in 2008 to go after Obama’s “lack of American roots,” the Clinton campaign did not claim that Obama had not been born in the United States, and Hillary Clinton has never personally questioned the president’s citizenship.