CNN claimed on Sunday that President Donald Trump had “promote[d]” the “birther lie” that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) might be ineligible for the vice presidency because her parents may not have been citizens when she was born in Oakland, California, in 1964.
CNN provided no evidence to support its claim. It accused Trump of promoting the theory because he “would not definitively say whether Harris met the requirements” during a Friday press briefing.
Here is the relevant exchange from that press briefing (with the White House transcript):
Q There are claims circulating on social media that Kamala Harris is not eligible to be — to run for Vice President because she was an “anchor baby,” I quote. Do you or can you definitively say whether or not Kamala Harris is eligible — legal — and meets the legal requirements to run as Vice President?
THE PRESIDENT: So, I just heard that. I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements. And, by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer. I have no idea if that’s right. I would’ve — I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for Vice President.
THE PRESIDENT: But that’s a very serious — you’re saying that — they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country?
Q She was.
Q No, she was born in this country, but her parents did not — the claims say that her parents did not receive their permanent residence at that time.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I don’t know about it. I just heard about it. I’ll take a look.
The president said he had “no idea” whether it was right and that he “assumed” Democrats had “checked that out.”
Reporters asked about the issue again at a press briefing the next day — and the response was the same (from the White House transcript):
REPORTER: Will you say Kamala Harris is eligible to run and be vice president based on the fact she was born in Oakland?
TRUMP: “So, I have nothing to do with that. I read something about it … it’s not something that bothers me.” pic.twitter.com/Oq3CCluSvn
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 15, 2020
Q On the campaign: Will you say now that Kamala Harris is eligible to run and be Vice President or President, based on being born in Oakland, California?
THE PRESIDENT: So, I have nothing to do with that. I read something about it. And I will say that he is a brilliant lawyer that — I guess he wrote an article about it. So I know nothing about it, but it’s not something that bothers me.
Q But, sir, when you do that, it creates doubt.
THE PRESIDENT: Why do you say that? I just don’t know about it, but it’s not something that we will be pursuing.
Q But you do know it, sir. You do —
THE PRESIDENT: Let me put it differently.
Q Mr. President, you know.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me be —
Q You can simply clear this up.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me put it differently. Don’t tell me what I know. (Laughter.) Let me put it differently. Let me put it differently: To me, it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t know about it. I read one quick article. The lawyer happens to be a brilliant lawyer, as you probably know. He wrote an article saying there could be a problem. It’s not something that I’m going to be pursuing.
Q Is she eligible, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I just told you, I have not gone into it in great detail. If she’s got a problem, you would have thought that she would —
Q It’s not that hard, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: — have been vetted.
Q It’s not that hard.
THE PRESIDENT: You would have thought that she would have been vetted by Sleepy Joe.
The president said he knew “nothing about it,” and went even further, saying that it was something he would not be “pursuing.” CNN spun that by reporting that the president “did not dismiss the conspiracy theories as false.”
Thus far, it would appear to be the media, and not Trump, promoting the Kamala Harris “birther” theory. The theory first appeared in an op-ed by professor John Eastman in Newsweek, for which the publication issued an apology on Saturday.
Other media outlets have made similar false claims about Trump promoting or “encourag[ing]” the idea that Harris is ineligible — and they have contrasted that supposed claim to Joe Biden’s supposedly more responsible leadership:
As President Trump encourages a false birther theory against Kamala Harris, Joe Biden is encouraging Americans to “protect your fellow citizens” by wearing masks in public. @mitchellreports has the latest. pic.twitter.com/0ML6QMzNDA
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 14, 2020
CNN added that Trump had “pushed similar conspiracies about former President Barack Obama.”
In 2012, Breitbart News exposed the fact that the claim Obama had been born in Kenya — which Breitbart News noted explicitly that we rejected — had been printed in a promotional pamphlet by his literary agent in 1991. Mainstream media sources picked up the story and reported that the mistake — which the agent ascribed to an error in fact-checking — was a “possible source of the so-called “birther” issue–or at least a potential cause of the rumors that have dogged President Barack Obama.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.