A journalist who says that longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal urged him in 2008 to investigate whether Barack Obama was born in Kenya has released emails that shed new light on the matter.
The journalist is James Asher, the former Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
He caused a stir on Friday when he wrote on Twitter that in 2008, Blumenthal told him during a face-to-face meeting that Obama was born in Kenya. Blumenthal, a former journalist and Bill Clinton White House aide, denied the accusation on Sunday, telling Fox News that what Asher claimed “never happened.” (RELATED: Reporter Says Clinton Buddy Pitched Him Birther Story In 2008)
Asher’s emails with Blumenthal, which were provided to McClatchy and the Los Angeles Times, do not prove his accusations true, though the journalist has maintained all along that Blumenthal never put his birther theories down in writing. Regardless, the documents do not portray Blumenthal in a positive light. They show that Blumenthal sought to plant stories with Asher about Obama’s Kenyan ties, his Kenyan father, and his familial ties to “controversial Muslim groups” in Kenya.
“Jim: On Kenya, your person in the field might look into the impact there of Obama’s public comments about his father,” reads a March 17, 2008 email from Blumenthal to Asher, who now serves as Washington editor of Injustice Watch, an investigative journalism nonprofit that focuses on inequality in the criminal justice system.
“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 told the LA Times that Blumenthal suggested he dispatch a reporter to investigate Obama’s connections to Raila Odigna, a candidate for Kenya’s president at the time who claimed to be Obama’s cousin. Asher said that Blumenthal asserted there were links between Odinga and “controversial Muslim groups.”
Asher did dispatch a McClatchy reporter to investigate rumors about Obama’s birthplace and other stories about his Kenyan roots.
Shashank Bengali was the McClatchy bureau chief in Nairobi during that period and was dispatched by Asher to investigate Obama. His reporting found no evidence to support the claim that Obama was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii.
“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 told McClatchy. “I don’t have any specific knowledge where that tip would have come from. Jim’s instructions were just to look at everything.”
Asher has called Blumenthal out before. In March, he posted a tweet in which he referenced the 2008 office meeting with Blumenthal. Asher repeated that allegation on Friday after Clinton slammed Donald Trump for his 2011 campaign to force Obama to release his long-form birth certificate to prove that he was born in Hawaii.
Clinton said that the voters should not elect a candidate who was involved in birtherism, which she called a racist theory.
Some Clinton critics shot back, alleging that Clinton’s 2008 campaign planted the seeds of the birther theory. But fact-checkers who looked into the roots of the theory have determined that Clinton’s campaign was not involved in peddling stories questioning Obama’s birthplace; rather, it has largely been determined that some within Clinton’s campaign suggested that Obama might be a Muslim.
Asher’s accusations against Blumenthal have the potential to throw a wrench in the fact-checkers’ analysis.
Asher said that he does not have Blumenthal’s suggestion to investigation Obama’s birthplace in writing because the suggestion was provided in person in Asher’s Washington D.C. office.
“Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy, where he and I met in my office. During that conversation and in subsequent communications, we discussed a number of matters related to Obama. He encouraged McClatchy to do stories related to Obama and his connections to Kenya,” Asher told his former employer.
While Blumenthal’s flirtation with birtherism, even if true, was not as public and aggressive as Trump’s, Asher’s claims have cut away at the moral high ground Clinton claims to hold on the issue.
Clinton reportedly continues to take advice from Blumenthal, who is referred to by some in the political world as “Sid Vicious.”
Politico reported earlier this year that Blumenthal has stayed in touch with his longtime friend and provides her political advice. He did the same while Clinton served as secretary of state, emailing her intelligence reports, political gossip and advice while she was in office. Blumenthal did that even though the Obama White House blocked him from taking a job at Clinton’s State Department because of his dirty tricks during the 2008 primaries.
Blumenthal regularly forwarded anti-Obama information to his vast network of journalist friends and political operatives during the 2008 campaign.
Blumenthal also worked for the Clinton Foundation during much of Clinton’s State Department tenure. He also worked for Media Matters, a left-wing organization operated by Clinton ally David Brock.