A necessary follow-up to this weekend’s post addressing Trump’s punchback at Clinton about Birtherism. Sure, says Trump, I may have pushed the idea for five years and used it to build my “politically incorrect” brand with Republican voters, but it didn’t start with me. It started with Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries. Any voter who’s mad at me over this, he implied, should in fairness be mad at her too. And lo and behold, according to former McClatchy bureau chief James Asher, there is reason to suspect Clinton of jump-starting Birtherism eight years ago. It was none other than Hillary hatchet man Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime member of the inner circle, who encouraged Asher to pursue Obama’s birthplace in 2008, the editor claimed. But Asher has no hard proof and his Twitter posts suggest that he views Hillary Clinton with enough disdain that it can’t be assumed he’s making an admission against political interest in tying her to Birtherism.
One burning question after he made his accusation against Blumenthal was whether there might be any contemporaneous evidence left over at McClatchy that Asher had been interested in pursuing this topic at the time. Specifically, Asher insisted that “We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false.” Was that true? If so, who’s the reporter? Today McClatchy named him.
Shashank Bengali, who was the McClatchy bureau chief in Nairobi in 2008, confirmed Monday that Asher asked him to look into Obama’s background.
He said he did report on several tips as well as the false rumor that Obama was born there, and not in Hawaii. Candidates for president must be native born.
“Jim asked me to look into Obama’s ties to Kenya and sent a number of tips to check out and one of the things I looked into was the unfounded rumor that Obama was born in Kenya,” Bengali said, speaking from Afghanistan where he was on assignment for the Los Angeles Times, where he now works. “I don’t have any specific knowledge where that tip would have come from. Jim’s instructions were just to look at everything.”
Did Asher specifically nudge Bengali to investigate the Birther rumors about Obama, though, or just his family’s origins in Kenya more generally, with Bengali pursuing his own leads? Politiconotes that Bengali recently sent this email to Asher:
“What I remember is that you told me to look into everything about Obama’s family in Kenya. I can’t recall if we specifically discussed the birther claim, but I’m sure that was part of what I researched,” Bengali said in an email to Asher that was shared with POLITICO.
Asher didn’t bring up Birtherism specifically, perhaps, but Bengali had heard enough about the subject to look into it as part of the broader inquiry into “Obama’s family in Kenya.” And Asher was, it seems, interested in that broader subject. How about Blumenthal, though? Was heinterested in Obama and Kenya?
Turns out he was. More from Politico:
The email [to Asher from Blumenthal], which was dated March 17, 2008, and shared with POLITICO, reads: “Jim, on Kenya your person in the field might look into the impact there of Obama’s public comments about his father. I’m told by State Dept officials that Obama publicly derided his father on his visit there and that was regarded as embarrassing and crossing the line by Kenyans for whom respect for elders (especially the father, especially a Muslim father, in a patrilineal society) is considered sacrosanct. Sidney”
Asher says he also asked Bengali, after discussing the matter with Blumenthal, to look into “any connections between Obama and Raila Odinga, who had described himself as Obama’s cousin and would run for president of Kenya; and, second, possible relationships between Odinga and unspecified controversial Muslim groups.”
When Politico asked him for comment on that, Blumenthal noted that that has nothing to do with Birtherism (true) and forwarded them an email he sent to friends in 2011 calling Birtherism “nuts.” Okay, but his pal Hillary was already a card-carrying member of the Obama White House at that point and was eyeing a run in 2016. It was in Clintonworld’s interest by 2011 to stomp on Birtherism. Not so three years earlier. Here’s the real question: Why would Blumenthal be interested in really banal angles linking Obama to Kenya in 2008 but not the explosive racially-charged angle of Birtherism? Who the hell would have cared if McClatchy had found that, yes, some Kenyans were miffed that Obama had spoken unflatteringly about his father or that he had some distant relation to Odinga? Those aren’t even one-day stories. They’re one-hour stories.