Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Finally Admits Obama Was Born in U.S.; Syria Crisis. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, the birther lie, it is kind of like a newborn baby. You might think that you put it to bed, but -- THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump finally admits something that has been a fact since 1961. Barack Obama was born in the United States. But did Trump's attempt to end this really make the controversy even bigger?

They have witnessed unspeakable violence, and they desperately need help, so why aren't the children of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, getting the aid they need four days into the cease-fire?



911 OPERATOR: Do you know what color the House is?



TAPPER: A chilling life-or-death call, a woman calling 911 with her kidnapper and now accused killer just inches away.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

For years, against all evidence and reason, Donald Trump has been the most prominent pusher of the birther lie, repeatedly questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States. Spoiler alert: He was.

Today, in a few sentences, Donald Trump finally acknowledged Obama was born here five years after the president released his long-form U.S. birth certificate to try to quiet conspiracy theorists and almost eight years after being first elected president.

What Mr. Trump did not to today was explain why for so long he perpetuated this birther lie, including in multiple interviews just this year. And he certainly did not apologize, as even his supporter Dr. Ben Carson suggested he should do.

In fact, today, Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton and her campaign first raised questions about where the requested was born. There is no evidence for that. Clinton today respond on Twitter, calling Trump's remarks deplorable and a disgrace.

"Trump has spent years peddling a racist conspiracy aimed at undermining the first African-American president," she wrote. "He can't just take it back."

Trump's staff desperately wanted today's statement to be the end of this story, but by saying even more things today that are not true, he might seemed to have guaranteed that it will not be the end.


TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump said three things about the birther lie today.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.

President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.

TAPPER: Let's unpack all three. We will start with this:

TRUMP: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.

TAPPER: That is accurate and has been since 1961, proven years ago with contemporaneous birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers and the president's certification of live birth. But until late this morning, Donald Trump refused to publicly acknowledge this fact.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm shocked that a question like that would come up at a time when we have got so many other things do. Well, I'm not that shocked, actually. It's fairly typical.

I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well.

TAPPER: In fact, pushing this nonsense, this lie, is how Trump became a political force back in 2011.

TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate? I want him to show his birth certificate. There is something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like.

He may have one, but there is something on that. There's maybe religion. Maybe it says he's a Muslim. I don't know. It's one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in history, period. You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in it country. He may not have been born in it country.

TAPPER: Many Americans, especially many in the African-American community, perceive this effort to state falsely that the nation's first African-American president may have been born in Africa and thus ineligible for the presidency as nothing short of racist. But Mr. Trump today, as he has before, attempted to blame birtherism on his current rival, Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.

TAPPER: Now, back in 2008, there was ugliness. A top Clinton strategist suggested the campaign highlight lack of American roots. In December 2007, Obama confronted Clinton about a volunteer of hers circulating an e-mail suggesting he was a Muslim.

But there is no evidence that Clinton or anyone in her campaign ever questioned whether Obama was born in this country. Clinton fired back today.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is feeding into to the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country. Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology.


TAPPER: Trump's third claim today is that he is responsible for ending the birther controversy by pressuring the president to release his birth certificate in 2011.

TRUMP: I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.

TAPPER: That is also patently false.

Here is Obama on April 27, 2011.

OBAMA: We have had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital.

TAPPER: Here is Trump more than a year later.

TRUMP: A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate.

TAPPER: Here he is in August 2013.

TRUMP: You know, some people say that was not his birth certificate. I'm saying I don't know. Nobody knows.

TAPPER: In January of this year:

TRUMP: Who knows about Obama.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: His mother was a U.S. citizen, born in Kansas. So, is he a natural-born citizen?


TRUMP: Who knows? Who knows? Let's -- who cares right now? We're talking about something else, OK? I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday, I will -- I will give -- I will write a book.


TAPPER: One new bit of information in this developing story, while there remains no evidence that Clinton or anyone on her campaign pushed the birther lie, this afternoon, a former Washington bureau chief of McClatchy, Jim Asher, tweeted that longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal pushed the Obama was born in Kenya lie to him.

A top 2008 Clinton campaign source tells me that Blumenthal was not officially on the campaign, because Blumenthal is certainly an ally of the Clintons. Neither Blumenthal nor the Clinton campaign responded to a request for comment about Asher's tweets.

Let's talk about all of this with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times" Maureen Dowd. She's out with a great new book titled "The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics."

Maureen, thanks so much for being here.

What a great day to be here on a book subtitled "The Derangement of American Politics."

What did you make of the press conference today and the fact that this issue is back in the news?

MAUREEN DOWD, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I thought it was funny that the press was getting upset that they were hornswoggled into getting Trump's hotel publicity, because if they went over there and thought they weren't doing an infomercial for the new Trump hotel, then they need to buy my book.

And they were lucky they got out of there have without having to buy time shares.


TAPPER: Were you satisfied with his statement that Barack Obama was born in the United States, Hillary started it, I ended it? Obviously, the last two parts of that are not true?

DOWD: Donald Trump is able to -- was even less persuasive in saying I'm sorry than Hillary. You never get the feeling that either of them are ever sorry.

And Trump, he is a real estate salesman. He's always trying to make the sale in the moment. So he was willing to say any nefarious or nonsensical thing to woo the lunatic fringe when he wanted that constituency.

So, now he wants suburban women and swing states, so he's going back on it.

TAPPER: Do you think that he actually has an opinion on this, though? Do you he actually... DOWD: Yes. I asked him. I interviewed him about it.

And I said, you know this isn't true. Why don't you just admit it now a couple months ago?


DOWD: And he goes, "No comment."

He never likes to admit that he was wrong. That's just his whole thing.

TAPPER: I want to you take a listen to what Congressman G.K. Butterfield, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, had to say about this all today.


REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D), NORTH CAROLINA: By any definition, Donald Trump is a disgusting fraud. He started this silliness, silliness years ago by saying that President Obama is not an American citizen. He had no proof of it.

He would not have done that to a Mitt Romney. He would not have done that to John McCain or any other white who was running for president of the United States.


TAPPER: The one thing I wonder is after today -- there was big discrepancy between -- in voter enthusiasm, many more Republicans excited about voting for Trump than Democrats voting for Hillary.

I wonder if Donald Trump just erased that by getting so many people excited to vote against him.

DOWD: Yes.

No, it's completely disgusting. And I'm not -- this is not original to me, but someone made the analogy that it's like a racist white cop who stops an African-American driver who is not doing anything wrong and asked for his I.D.

And, obviously, that is how President Obama sees it, too, because he cannot wait to get out on the campaign trail. And it's definitely personal with him with Trump.

TAPPER: A lot of great stuff in your book.

You write that Donald Trump is a -- quote -- "clinical narcissist with a thin skin, touchy temperament and taste for flattery."

What type of president do you think he would be, because even Nate Silver says he has a one-in-three chance of becoming president? Those qualities in a president are not unprecedented, I guess.


DOWD: Well, you know, in Arthur Schlesinger's memoirs, he said that many modern presidents have been mentally unbalanced.

So, JFK and Nixon had psychotropic drugs in their medicine cabinets. And LBJ's aides used to argue about whether he was a clinical paranoid or manic depressive. So, Trump could get a jump on it and say, I'm already crazy, you know? The White House isn't going to do to me.


TAPPER: What is more presidential than that, I guess, in some ways?

DOWD: Right.

TAPPER: You also obviously have covered the Clintons since the 1990s. And you write quite a bit about that, including going back and reading some of the first things you wrote about Hillary Clinton which surprised you.

DOWD: I know. It's like I have a girl crush on her.

They are so supportive, because I do think for these women like Hillary and Michelle, who have the same qualifications as their husband, to get into this antiquated role of the first lady, is very hard.

And I also covered Hillary when she presented health care on the Hill and called her presentation dazzling. But then health care was scuttled by her penchant for secrecy and defensiveness and locking out the press, which she hasn't learned from, because we saw it again last week with her health issue.

I mean, she -- everyone would understand if she said she had pneumonia. I think she and Trump have more stamina than any 20-year- olds I have ever seen.

TAPPER: They really are. People who don't do this for a living, who don't cover campaigns don't understand how grueling it is.

DOWD: Right.

TAPPER: And I remember in 2000 covering John McCain, who at the time everybody thought was ancient, and he was up and at 'em before any of us. And you really have to give credit to both Clinton at 68 and Trump at 70 for doing what they do. It really is remarkable.

DOWD: Well, I interviewed Trump about this, too, and he was trying to come up with his nickname for Hillary a few months ago. And he started with the stamina insult.

And I just said, that's ridiculous. She has more stamina than anyone I have ever seen. And then he did the crooked one. But that was his first choice. But I'm not sure where he got it. It doesn't make sense.

TAPPER: You have been critical of Hillary Clinton. What kind of president do you think she would be?

DOWD: Hillary Clinton started, as you know, at Wellesley as this idealistic young woman.

And she does have a wonderful public service side, where she wants to make the world a better place. But, unfortunately, she also has a dark defensive side, where sometimes she's making decisions from a place of fear and insecurity. And that side can trip up the other side.

I just hope they don't bring back motel 1600, with all the crazy donors running around the Lincoln Bedroom.

TAPPER: You think she is going to win?

DOWD: Did I use that tense?


TAPPER: I just hope they don't do this.

DOWD: No, I report. I don't...

TAPPER: All right.


DOWD: The book is "The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics." The author is Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd.

Thanks so much. It's always a pleasure.

DOWD: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Don't be a stranger. Good to see you.

DOWD: OK. Thank you.

TAPPER: A human leach, not slim and trim, and now Harry Reid is going for Donald Trump's jugular -- the comments that will have Trump logging onto Twitter in just a second.


[16:17:09] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Hillary Clinton again today saying "Thanks, Obama," but she means this time and the member of the family she's thanking is Michelle.

Jeff Zeleny is here with me in Washington.

And, Jeff, the first lady made her campaign debut today in Virginia. Did she have anything to say about the whole birther charge, Trump's lie that he pedaled that Obama wasn't born in the U.S.?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, she certainly didn't thank him, Jake, and she didn't mention Trump by name at all, but she did dive right into this controversy, saying that until this very day, some have questioned whether the president was even born in this country. She left it at that, but she used it as a rallying cry for why voters who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 should now flock to Clinton's side. She wasn't alone, with Clinton seizing on Trump, too.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The next 53 days will shape the next 50 years.

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton delivering a call to Democrats about the election steep consequences and a warning not to buy the shape shifting of Donald Trump.

CLINTON: So my friends, there is no new Donald Trump. There never will be.

ZELENY: Tonight, Clinton and Democrats across the party are rising up in fury at Trump, after he tried extinguishing his long running, factually incorrect questions about President Obama's citizenship. The new wave of controversy could awaken and energize the so-called Obama coalition which will Clinton has been struggling to motivate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

ZELENY: In Virginia today, Michelle Obama confronting Trump at her first solo campaign appearance for Clinton.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: There were those who questioned and continue to question for the past eight years up through this very day whether my husband was even born in this country.

ZELENY: The first lady one of the most popular figures in politics, invested in keeping the White House in Democratic hands.

OBAMA: No one in our lifetime has ever had as much experience and exposure to the presidency, not about Barack, not Bill, as he was saying nobody, and yes, she happens to be a woman.

ZELENY: She's one of many Democratic stars hitting the campaign trail, a highlight real from the party's convention last month, now fanning out across the country.

To fire up liberals and young voters, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders heading to Ohio this weekend.

On CNN's "NEW DAY," Sanders offering sharp words to any of his followers who are still cool on Clinton.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Please anybody who supports me, do not think that Donald Trump in any way shape or form reflects the point of view that I have.

ZELENY: Clinton is trying to regain her footing after weathering one of the rockiest weeks of her campaign.

Even making political hay from her setback with pneumonia.

CLINTON: The good news is my in a pneumonia finally got some Republicans interested in women's health.

ZELENY: Back on the campaign trail for a second straight day, Clinton told black women leaders they could play a large role in helping stop Trump's candidacy.

[16:20:04] She noted that African-American women voted higher percentage than any other group.

CLINTON: This year once again, you have your hands on the wheel of history. And you can write the next chapter of the American story.


ZELENY: Now this is all happening on a weekend when the Congressional Black Caucus is already meeting in Washington. President Obama and Secretary Clinton will be on the same stage tomorrow night speaking to black leaders from across the country.

The idea was for the president to help energize that old coalition that swept him into the White House twice. Now, Trump may have unwittingly fired up the old Obama coalition more than Clinton herself.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jeff, thanks so much.

Donald Trump tells Harry Reid, work out with your rubber workout pieces. Harry Reid now punching back with his own line of attack.

And then --


CALLER: I've been abducted.

911 OPERATOR: Where's he at now?

CALLER: Asleep. I'm in the bedroom with him.


TAPPER: A woman's harrowing call for help with her alleged kidnapper, asleep next to her. Why police are investigating the suspect as a possible serial killer.


[16:25:34] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Senate Minority Harry Reid is known around Capitol Hill as a tough partisan fighter and he was in fact a boxer when he was younger. Now, he's taking the fight to Donald Trump, throwing around words such as phony and liar, once you often don't hear politicians call each other in public, although 2016 has been quite a year.

CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju asked Reid today about Trump's birther remarks and his claim that Clinton was the first to raise questions about President Obama's birth place.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Hillary brought it up? What a liar. He never requested citizenship of anyone else running for president. No one else.

He is just such a phony. Here a man you can't believe anything he says. Nothing.

He is one of the most unbelievably immoral people I've ever heard deal with politics. He now makes fun of the fact that I'm blind in one eye. I'm blind in one eye, OK? I got that. But I can still see with my good eye. What an absolute fraud this man is who wants to be president of the United States.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Increasingly, you've used strong terms, but is this a sign, though, that Democrats are getting very nervous that Donald Trump is doing a lot better in the polls?

REID: Donald Trump will never be elected president of the United States. We're going to retake the Senate. You know the manner we've talked. All these polls are a joke, a joke. We know he can't be elected president.

RAJU: Battleground states are tightening. He's winning in Ohio, winning in Florida. Your state of Nevada, he's ahead.

REID: They're tightening because people like the ones you work for get these cheap polls that they keep making news on. Donald Trump will never be elected president. I have an obligation to tell everyone that will listen to me to make sure that they understand that he is not a person of quality. He is a bully. He's an egomaniac.


RAJU: Now, this is not the first time Harry Reid had played this role. In 2012, Jake, he went after Mitt Romney, accused Mitt Romney of not paying taxes. Of course that was not true, but Senate Leader Harry Reid using the floor of the Senate to make those remarks. Here also in 2016, using the Senate the floor to go after Donald Trump.

I asked him if it was appropriate to use the Senate floor to campaign against a presidential candidate, he said it is his obligation to do so -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our political panel now. Chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo News, Olivier Knox, and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast", Jackie Kucinich. Olivier, let me start with you. What was the calculus of Donald Trump deciding to say what he said today? Do you think he really thought that that would put this whole issue to bed?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: He can't have. And, in fact, if you look at the last 24 hours, it seems like he was teasing it out. He simply could have said it in the "Washington Post" interview yesterday and said, you know what, no, Barack Obama was worn in born in the United States, over and done. Instead, he dragged it out. He designed this veterans events/hotel publicity tour, and you know, suck in the TV cameras.

I'm not really sure what the calculus was. This is the foundational (INAUDIBLE), the conspiracy theory of Donald Trump, this is how he burst on the scene. He's kind of sort of maybe repudiating his brand.

TAPPER: You know, what's weird also about this, Jackie, is that it comes at the end of I think empirically a bad week for Hillary Clinton, with all these polls showing the race tightening significantly and you had her health issue and basket of deplorables, and this and that. And now, it's ending with Donald Trump reminding the world of this lie that he told for so many years.

KUCINICH: It's like a cycle that he does this. She has a bad week, and then he says something at the end of it, and it blows up and then he's not having a good week. But I think one of the calculus is you heard his advisers, Kellyanne Conway, some of his advisers are talking and saying that, you know, the president was born in this country, we're moving on, but the candidate wouldn't say it.

And so, I think he was being pushed himself. I don't think he wanted to say it, but they wanted to get it out of the way before the debate, so this wouldn't be something that he had to address in the debate. Now, he might still have to, but in theory, he's addressed it and they can move on a little faster.

TAPPER: Olivier, you'll remember this, Mitt Romney's former body man Garrett Jackson tweeted a few months ago, I recorded a lot of the real -- "I recorded a lot, the real Donald Trump better hope I didn't record him telling us to use the birther argument because, quote, 'right wing crazies will believe it'."