WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump himself won't say it, but his campaign is now declaring that the Republican presidential candidate believes now that President Barack Obama was born in the United States. And his campaign is cheering Trump for bringing an end to an "ugly incident" that it blames, without evidence, on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
For many years, Trump was the most prominent proponent of the "birther" movement, which claimed Obama was born outside the U.S. and thus ineligible to be president — despite the fact that he was born in Hawaii. As recently as Thursday, Trump would not acknowledge Obama's birthplace, declining to address the matter when asked by The Washington Post.
"I'll answer that question at the right time," Trump told the paper. "I just don't want to answer it yet."
Clinton seized on Trump's refusal during a speech Thursday night before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
"He was asked one more time where was President Obama born and he still wouldn't say Hawaii. He still wouldn't say America," Clinton said. "This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?"
The answer to her question came hours later when campaign spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement that suggested the question had been settled five years ago — by 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," Miller said.
"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," he added. "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."
Yet Trump repeatedly stoked the issue in the years since Obama released his birth certificate. In August 2012, he was pushing the issue on Twitter.
"An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud," he wrote.
Trump has said repeatedly during the campaign that he no longer talks about the "birther" issue while refusing to retract his previous comments.
"I don't talk about it because if I talk about that, your whole thing will be about that," he told reporters aboard his plane last week. "So I don't talk about it."
Trump's comments speculating on Obama's birthplace have been seen by many as an attempt to delegitimize the nation's first black president, and have turned off many of the African American voters he is now courting in his bid for the White House.
Miller's claim that Clinton launched the birther movement during her unsuccessful primary run against Obama in 2008 is unsubstantiated and long denied by Clinton. On Twitter, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon did not address that allegation, but said that acceptance that Obama was born in the U.S. comes up short.
"Trump needs to say it himself. On camera. And admit he was wrong for trying to delegitimize the country's first African-American president," Fallon wrote.
Indeed, Trump himself has said that his aides shouldn't be trusted to speak on his behalf.
"Don't believe the biased and phony media quoting people who work for my campaign," he tweeted in May. "The only quote that matters is a quote from me!"