The Slatest

Trump Declines to Refute False Kamala Harris Birther Smears

Trump speaks at a podium, with American flags behind him
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday. Jim Watson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was given several opportunities to outright reject the baseless claim that Sen. Kamala Harris could be ineligible to serve as vice president. Trump repeatedly refused. Days after he gave credence to the racist conspiracy theory, Trump pointedly declined repeated opportunities to state the obvious fact that Joe Biden’s running mate is a U.S. citizen who was born in Oakland, California. The president did say on Saturday his campaign will not be pushing the issue. “I just don’t know about it, but it’s not something that we will be pursuing,” Trump told reporters.

A reporter had asked the president to say Harris is eligible to be the country’s vice president, but Trump notably refused to say something that could put an end to all the baseless conspiracy theories. “I have nothing to do with that. I read something about it,” Trump said. “I know nothing about it, but it’s not something that bothers me.” When he was pressed on the issue, Trump continued to push back: “I just don’t know about it,” he said. The president then seemingly got angry at the reporter suggesting he knew the claims were not true. “Don’t tell me what I know,” he said. He kept on insisting he had no idea what the truth might be. “To me, it doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “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 it could be a problem. It’s not something that I’m going to be pursuing.”

Pushed again to comment on Harris’ eligibility, Trump repeated the same message, making it clear it was his planned answer and not an off-the-cuff response. “I just told you. I have not gone into it in great detail,” he said before suggesting that if there had been a problem, he’s sure the Democratic campaign would have found it. “If she’s got a problem,” he said, “you would have thought that she would have been vetted by Sleepy Joe.”

The article Trump was likely referring to was the op-ed by John Eastman published by Newsweek that was widely denounced. Trump may think Eastman is a “brilliant lawyer,” but in truth he is “a fabulist whose toxic views have grown like a cancer on the right, forming the pseudo-intellectual foundation for birtherism 2.0,” as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote. Newsweek has since apologized for the op-ed after several staff members publicly criticized the decision to run the piece. “This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize,” reads the editor’s note that is now on top of the piece. “We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized.” Although many, including the staff members, had called for the piece to be taken down, Newsweek’s opinion editor, Josh Hammer, and the global editor in chief, Nancy Cooper, said the piece would remain on the site with the note attached because “we believe in being transparent.”

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