WASHINGTON — Donald Trump said Friday he now believes President Obama was born in the United States, seeking to bury an issue he has used repeatedly the past five-and-a-half years to appeal to ultra-conservative audiences.
"President Obama was born in the United States -- period," Trump said after an event on military endorsements before walking off the stage without taking questions.
As reporters in the back of the room yelled and shouted questions at Trump, the crowd invited to the event began yelling "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
In his brief statement, the Republican nominee also blamed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for starting "birther" rumors during the 2008 primary against Obama, but there is no factual basis for that claim. He offered no apology or explanation for why he promoted the so-called "birther" issue since at least 2011.
Clinton, speaking Friday to an African-American women's group in Washington, D.C, dismissed Trump's changed position, accusing the New York businessman of leading "the birther movement to de-legitimize our first black president," and adding that his entire presidential campaign was "founded on this outrageous lie."
Trump, who had not personally said Obama was born in Hawaii before Friday, announced earlier in the day he would make a special announcement on the topic.
"We have to keep the suspense going," the Republican presidential nominee told Fox Business Network just hours before a campaign event at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Most of the event consisted of military veterans endorsing Trump — only at the end did he address the Obama birthplace issue, and then for less than a minute.
Obama, born in Hawaii in 1961, declined to discuss Trump before a White House meeting on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership with Pacific Rim nations, telling reporters that "I'm shocked that a question like that has come up at a time when we have so many other things to do. Well, I'm not that shocked actually — it's fairly typical."
Obama added: "I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well. My hope would be the presidential elect, election reflects more serious issues than that."
Trump himself, who rose to political prominence in part by arguing that Obama was born overseas, prolonged the dispute in an interview this week, telling The Washington Post Thursday, “I’ll answer that question at the right time" and “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
In the wake of that comment, Trump spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement saying that "Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States," though Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and her aides quickly pointed out that the candidate himself had not said that.
"President Obama’s successor cannot and will not be the man who led the racist birther movement. Period," tweeted Clinton.
Obama issued his Hawaii birth certificate in 2011, partly in response to Trump's jibes, but the issue has not died during Trump's bid for the presidency.
Trump and his aides actually take credit for the birth certificate release, whichTrump said "ended" the controversy. Miller's statement also accused the Clinton campaign of 2008 of raising this issue against Obama during that year's Democratic primaries, though there's no evidence tying those charges to the candidate. Some die-hard Clinton supporters did question Obama's birthplace at the time.
Some analysts greeted Trump's brief announcement Friday with skepticism.
"You don't just get to push eight years of race-baiting lies about the president and then pull a 'never mind!' Let's not pretend otherwise," tweeted Seth Madel, op-ed editor of The New York Post.
John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for Ohio governor and Trump primary opponent John Kasich, tweeted that the media should not let Trump "get away with this Orwellian revisionism regarding his smear of the President."
One of the speakers at the event, retired Gen. Thomas McInerney, has also publicly questioned whether Obama was born in this country.