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Debate moderator Lester Holt confronted Donald Trump repeatedly on his previous claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the US despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Mr. Trump, for five years you perpetuated a false claim that the nation’s first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy,” Holt said during the first presidential debate on Monday night. “In the last couple of weeks you acknowledged what most Americans have known for years – that the president was born in the United States.
“Can you tell us what took you so long?”
Trump defended his birtherism, falsely asserting that the Clinton campaign started the birther rumor.
“She failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate,” Trump said of Obama.
“I want to get on to things that are very important to me, and that are very important to the country.”
Holt continued to press Trump.
“I just want to get the answer here,” the NBC News anchor said. “The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15, and as recently as January. So the question is: What changed your mind?”
“I figured you’d ask the question tonight,” Trump said. “No one was caring much about it. I was the one who got him to produce the birth certificate.”
He added: “Everyone in mainstream is going to say that its not true – look, it’s true.”
Holt then asked Trump if he was concerned about black Americans who were offended by Trump’s repeated insistence that Obama was not born in the US.
“We’re talking about racial healing in this segment,” Holt said. “What do you say to Americans, people of color -“
“I say nothing,” Trump interjected. “I got him to produce it. He should’ve produced it a long time before.”
For her part, Hillary Clinton characterized Trump’s actions as racist.
“Just listen to what you heard,” Clinton said.
“He tried to put the whole racist, birther lie to bed,” she said. “But it can’t be dismissed that easily. He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that the first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely not evidence of it, but he persisted year after year because some of his supporters, people he was trying to bring into his fold, believe it or want to believe it.”