Trump and the birther movement

By Patrick Colliano

In my previous article, I briefly touched upon Donald Trump’s involvement in the birther movement as one instance in which allegations of racism have followed him throughout his entire public life.

However, Trump’s claims about Obama’s eligibility to serve as President deserve a more thorough debunking.

In fairness to Trump, it should be pointed out that the birther movement did not originate with him. Birtherism was started in 2008, and Trump did not involve himself (at least not publicly) until early 2011.

Grist for the Rumor Mill

Trump was first questioned about his birther sympathies on March 3, 2011, during an appearance on The View. When the panelists on The View started to ask him about this, Trump sprayed disinformation like a skunk.

Joy Behar quoted Trump as saying “He [Barack Obama] grew up and nobody knew him. Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. The whole thing is very strange.”

That would be very strange, if it were true. But like every allegation made by birthers regarding President Obama’s eligibility, it’s not. First, there is a compilation of recollections of Barack Obama from those who knew him, including childhood friends.

 Our Friend Barry by Constance Ramos that was released in 2008, two-and-a-half years before Trump made this statement. Also, in 2007, nearly three years to the day before Trump’s appearance on The View, The Chicago Tribune ran a story that included interviews from over a dozen of Obama’s classmates.

After assuring the panelists on The View that he was “a really good student at the best school” and that he’s “like a smart guy,” he then asked complainingly, “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?”

A month later, Trump would repeat this claim that Obama had not produced a valid birth certificate when he appeared on the Today Show with Meredith Vieira.

Meredith Vieira: Recently, you’ve spent a lot of time talking about President Obama’s birth certificate, or lack thereof. You don’t seem convinced that he has one.

Donald Trump: No, I’m not convinced that he has one. I’ve had very smart people say, “Donald, stay on the China issue. Stay on the Saudi Arabia issue. Stay on the India taking our jobs and the Mexico which is NAFTA [sic]…”

Vieira: “Get off the birth certificate issue.”

Trump: “…Get off the birth certificate issue.”

Vieira: Why don’t you?

Trump: Because you know, ah, three weeks ago, when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. Now I have a really bigger doubt than I did before.

Vieira: But based on what?

Trump: And you know what?  His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya, and she was there and witnessed the birth. Okay?  He doesn’t have a birth certificate, or he hasn’t shown it. He has what’s called a Certificate [sic] of Live Birth. That is something that’s easy to get. When you want a birth certificate, it’s very hard to get.

Vieira: But it’s considered the equivalent – the equivalent –

Trump (talking over): Excuse me. Excuse me. It’s not the equivalent.

Vieira: And in the state of Hawai’i they said they have seen his document…

Trump: Meredith…It’s not the equivalent.

Vieira: It’s evidence that he was born in the United States, that’s good enough for them. Scholars have…

Trump: A birth certificate is not even close. A Certificate [sic] of Live Birth is not even signed by anybody. I saw his. I read it very carefully. Doesn’t have a serial number, doesn’t have a signature. There’s not even a signature.

Vieira: Do you believe he’s lying?

Trump: I’m starting to think he was not born here.

Vieira: Do you believe he’s lying, Donald? Come on.  Just answer.

Trump: Meredith, he spent two million dollars in legal fees trying to get away from this issue. And if he weren’t lying, why wouldn’t he just solve it?

This claim that Obama has failed to produce a valid birth certificate is, regrettably, the most successful lie perpetrated by the birther movement.

It compelled the President to ask a special favor of the Hawaii Department of Health, requesting two copies of the long-form birth certificate that the birthers were clamoring for, which the Hawaii Department of Health no longer issues but can provide on request at their discretion.

This despite the fact that Obama had already released his birth certificate in 2008, while still campaigning for office.

However, before addressing the birth certificate released by the Obama campaign in 2008, it is necessary to address other points of disinformation Trump has regurgitated in this brief exchange with Meredith Vieira.

First, regarding the claim that Obama’s grandmother (Sarah Obama, who is actually his paternal step-grandmother) claimed that Obama was born in Kenya and she witnessed the birth, this came from a bishop of the Anabaptist Churches of North America, Ron McRae, who spoke to Sarah Obama over the phone through a translator (Sarah Obama speaks only Luo and a few words of English).

McRae, who recorded the conversation, did indeed ask if Sarah Obama was present when Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and Sarah had apparently replied in the affirmative, according to the translator.

However, in the portions of the call that immediately followed, which McRae conveniently excised in his transcription of the call, it became obvious that either Sarah Obama or the translator (who, while doing his best to be helpful, was plainly not conversant in English) misunderstood McRae’s very loaded question, and Sarah Obama repeatedly insisted that Obama was born in Hawaii.

While most of my original sources for debunking this lie have since been taken down, PolitiFact has the story. Several YouTubers have also posted audio recordings of the entire conversation.

Next, regarding Trump’s assertion that Obama has “spent two million dollars in legal fees” trying to avoid the birth certificate issue, this claim apparently comes from a record of payments made by the Obama campaign to the Perkins Coie international law firm.

These payments were reported in quarterly statements to the Federal Election Commission in compliance with U.S. law. The payments made to Perkins Coie, according to WorldNetDaily amounted to exactly $1,666,397.01.

However, the payments are not itemized (as the law does not require this), and there is no way of knowing what specific services Perkins Coie was charging for.

The chart (portions of which are seen on the WND article linked above) simply shows Perkins Coie as a recipient of several payments and the amount paid to them.

In other words, Trump has no way of knowing what the payments were covering. The birthers, including Trump, simply inferred that the entirety of this money was charged to the Obama campaign to defend him from birther lawsuits.

Subsequent statements reported to the FEC show additional payments to Perkins Coie, bringing the total to over 2.6 million dollars. But, again, nowhere do these statements made to the FEC show what specific services Perkins Coie was charging for.

It is highly doubtful that the entirety of this money, or even a significant portion of it, was spent on birther lawsuits. John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, spent over 1.3 million dollars in legal fees for his own campaign.

According to DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan, “The [Obama] campaign has incurred ordinary legal expenses related to the wind-down of its operations and other legal services which all campaigns incur and which are proportional to the unprecedented size of this campaign.”

Sevugan did concede that some of the money was used to defend the Obama campaign against lawsuits he called “unmeritorious,” but only one lawsuit that challenged Obama’s eligibility.

In light of this disclosure, and with the birthers unable to produce any evidence (such as an itemized bill from Perkins Coie, for example) to prove otherwise, it is highly dishonest to suggest that that 2 million dollars paid to Perkins Coie was spent, as Trump alleged, “trying to get away from this issue.”

Obama’s Short Form Birth Certificate

Finally, and most significantly, Obama had already produced a birth certificate in 2008 during his campaign. The Certification of Live Birth (notCertificate of Live Birth” as Trump kept calling it) is the official document issued by the Hawaii Department of Health when someone born in the state requests a birth certificate.

It is considered a self-authenticating document in accordance with Federal Rules of Evidence, Article IX Authentication and Identification, rule 902 (1) (A).

To clarify what is meant by a “self-authenticating document,” it means that the extrinsic measures for determining the document’s authenticity in a court of law – such as having sworn statements by those who can vouch for the document or perhaps examination by forensics experts – are deemed unnecessary.

Because Obama’s Certification of Live Birth is certified as authentic by the Hawaii Department of Health, affixed with the Hawaii state seal and the stamped signature, the courts would accept that the document is what it purports to be, needing no extra measures to prove it’s the genuine article; the document authenticates itself.

Obama’s Certification of Live Birth bears a raised seal, as proven by FactCheck.org, and, contrary to the allegations made by Donald Trump (who claims to have “read it very carefully”), it bears a certificate number, and the stamped signature of Alvin T. Onaka, Registrar of Vital Statistics for the State of Hawaii.

And if Trump, during his careful reading, had bothered to look at the bottom of the document, he would have found the following statement: “This copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding. [HRS 338-13(b), 338-19].”

It’s hard to believe that a man as notoriously litigious as Donald Trump would not know what is meant by “prima facie evidence.” Or, at least, that he would not avail himself of the expertise of the lawyers he probably has on retainer and find out.

But with his blatant suggestion that the Certification of Live Birth was inadequate, it became obvious that he didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about.

He might have also looked up the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS 338-13(b), and 338-19) referenced at the end of that statement, which respectively affirm that the document is “considered for all purposes the same as the original” and is of “like force and effect as the original” per Hawaiian law.

Finally, in accordance with the Full Faith and Credit clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution which requires that every state must respect the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state,” Obama’s Certification of Live Birth, as a public record, must be recognized as an authentic birth certificate by every state in the Union.

With these facts in mind, the Certification of Live Birth should have ended all questions as to Obama’s place of birth. But, with their characteristic willingness to manufacture disinformation on demand, the birthers have invented their own definition of “prima facie evidence.”

Lead investigator of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s soi-disant “Cold Case Posse” Mike Zullo made the bogus claim that “a birth certificate issued by them [the Hawaii Department of Health] is only prima facie evidence, which means ‘at first blush,’ but the definition of ‘prima facie evidence’ is ‘requires more investigation to check its validity.’”

It is, at least, remarkable that a man who claims to be a former police detective like Mike Zullo is not familiar with “prima facie evidence”; it becomes impossible to believe that he’s simply making an innocent mistake rather than intentionally lying.

It is also distressing that his credulous followers simply accepted this egregiously false statement without ever investigating it for themselves. But whether Zullo was deliberately lying or sorely misinformed, he could not have been further from the truth.

Black’s Law Dictionary 5th Edition, defines “prima facie” as follows:

Prima facie /práyma féysyshiy(iy)/. Lat. At first sight; on the first appearance; on the face of it; so far as can be judged from the first disclosure; presumably; a fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some evidence to the contrary.  [Emphasis added.]

Prima facie evidence does not “require more investigation to check its validity.” On the contrary, when prima facie evidence is introduced in court, it is presumed fact. The judge doesn’t even need to rule on it.

This is not to say that prima facie evidence is unimpeachable or irrefutable; however, it does shift the burden of proof to the other side.

Once Obama had presented his Certification of Live Birth, the ball was in the birthers’ court to somehow prove that the information given on a certified copy of the records produced by the Hawaii Department of Health was false.

But instead of recognising this fact, the birthers insisted ad nauseum that the short form was not adequate, a campaign doubtlessly given much more force when endorsed by someone as prominent as Donald Trump. And sadly, the birthers were successful in convincing the more gullible members of the general public that Obama still needed to produce a birth certificate.

Lawyer-pundit Ann Coulter, when asked about Donald Trump on The Hannity Show, injected some much-needed common sense into this demand for the long form birth certificate.

“Obama has produced his birth certificate,” she said. “There were announcements that ran in two contemporaneous Hawaiian newspapers at that time. The head of the Hawaiian medical record has announced:

“I have seen the long-form you all want. I don’t know why the long form is considered more credible than the short form. They are both from the same office. The State Department accepts the short form, or as we call it, ‘the birth certificate.’ Hawaii accepts the birth certificate short form.”

And Coulter is correct. Both the short-form and the long-form come from the Hawaii Department of Health and the State Department does accept the short form.

Far from being “not the equivalent” or “not even close” to a birth certificate, the short-form is sufficient to prove to the satisfaction of any court in the country that Obama was born in Hawaii.

Nonetheless, faced with the fact that this non-issue had become a distraction, thanks largely to the grossly misinformed or grossly dishonest Donald Trump, President Obama requested two certified copies of his long-form birth certificate from the Hawaii Department of Health.

The DoH complied, and Obama presented the copies to an impromptu press conference.

And Trump couldn’t have been more pleased with himself, holding a self-congratulatory press conference of his own. Though if Trump were honest, and sought out legal advice, he more likely would have castigated himself for his stunning ignorance.

But if we were expecting that the birthers would finally be satisfied, we were in for a disappointment. Obama’s release of the long-form birth certificate did not satisfy Trump for long.

During his press conference, Trump plainly stated that the birth certificate should be checked out to prove it’s genuine. The birthers, having picked up on these none-too-subtle hints, announced that they had incontestable proof and a parade of experts to prove that Obama’s long-form birth certificate was a forgery.

Trump, apparently buying into this, took to Twitter: “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.

Nor was Trump dissuaded from his determination to pry into the rest of Obama’s records. Less than two weeks before the election, in which President Obama would handily defeat Mitt Romney, Trump offered to give five million dollars to the charity of Obama’s choice, if Obama “opens up and gives his college records and applications and if he gives his passport applications and records.”

But Obama did what he finally should have done with Trump’s inane accusations: he ignored Trump completely.

Curiously, since Obama’s reelection, it appeared that Trump abandoned the birther movement and never publicly mentioned Obama’s supposed ineligibility again.

That is, until very recently. In response to recent criticism for his involvement with the birther movement, he laid the blame on his presumptive opponent:

 “You know who started the birther movement? You know who started it? Do you know who questioned his birth certificate, one of the first? Hillary Clinton. She’s the one that started it. She brought it up years before it was brought up by me.”

But like every other birther claim Trump had regurgitated when fully immersed in the birther movement, this is long-refuted nonsense.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor her campaign had anything to do with birtherism. Her only connection with the birther movement is the fact that it had actually been started by a small cluster of her diligent supporters. And Hillary can hardly be blamed for the actions of every person who supported her presidential bid when she campaigned against Obama.

But if Trump is taking heat for his participation in a ridiculous conspiracy theory, he has only himself to blame.

It is simply incredible that a man of his resources and probably a coterie of lawyers did not consult experts regarding this issue before regurgitating long-refuted claims and blatant falsehoods. Had he done so, he would have, like every responsible conservative media outlet, come to the conclusion the claims of the birthers were ridiculous nonsense.

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