CNNers Try to Ignore, Deflect Reports Clinton Advisor Pushed Anti-Obama Birtherism

For much of Friday evening, CNN viewers could witness various on-air personalities of the news network put in the awkward position of trying to repeatedly argue that the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2008 had nothing to do with promoting anti-Obama birther conspiracy theories, even while news was breaking that accused close Clinton confidant and advisor Sidney Blumenthal of personally trying to push birtherism into the media during Clinton's campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.

Even though CNN anchor Jake Tapper informed viewers of the development shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET, for the rest of the evening, several other CNN anchors tried to discuss the issue of whether the Clinton campaign was linked to birtherism without mentioning the very relevant breaking news unless forced to, usually by right-leaning CNN commentators. CNN Tonight host Don Lemon even tried to claim that the story was "not true," apparently simply because Blumenthal by that point had denied the charge.

At 4:06 p.m., while hosting The Lead, CNN anchor Jake Tapper informed viewers:

One new bit of information in this developing story, while there remains no evidence that Clinton or anyone on her campaign pushed the birther lie, this afternoon a former Washington bureau chief of McClatchy, Jim Asher, tweeted that longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal pushed the "Obama was born in Kenya" lie to him. A top 2008 Clinton campaign source tells me that Blumenthal was not officially on the campaign, but Blumenthal is certainly an ally of the Clintons. Neither Blumenthal nor the Clinton campaign responded to a request for comment about Asher's tweets.

In the next hour, as he hosted The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer repeatedly challenged Republican Rep. Sean Duffy when the Wisconsin congressman tried to link birtherism to the 2008 Clinton campaign. Blitzer focused on a 2008 Clinton campaign volunteer in Iowa who was fired for pushing birtherism, as if it constituted the only relevant allegation on the subject.

Even though Blumenthal was not a paid part of the Clinton campaign, if he made efforts to boost Clinton by trying to tear down her opponent, such activities would still be part of the Clinton team effort. But Blitzer did not mention the story, at one point going back and forth with Rep. Duffy:

WOLF BLITZER: There's no evidence at all that Hillary Clinton ever raised the birth place of then-Senator Barack Obama.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R-WI): No, but her team did. And, frankly, if it's someone who has a position that could actually be fired-

BLITZER: But the team didn't. There was one volunteer in Iowa who was fired for him doing that, but there was never any team effort, if you will, to smear the Democratic presidential candidate.

It was not until after 6:00 p.m. ET, during the second hour of The Situation Room, that the show finally acknowledged the Blumenthal story as correspondent Phil Mattingly appeared:

Another issue that has popped up today. The former McClatchy Washington bureau chief tweeted out, saying that Sidney Blumenthal -- obviously a close associate of the Clintons -- had pitched this theory to him during that campaign. Sidney Blumenthal just responded to my colleague who follows Hillary Clinton, saying that is completely untrue.

But it's worth noting Sidney Blumenthal did not have an official role on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. What we know, the reality of this issue is this: Hillary Clinton and her campaign -- at least those paid by her campaign -- never pushed this claim and is certainly not the people that originated this claim.

Earlier in the day, on his 1:00 p.m. ET Wolf show, Blitzer had notably interviewed 2008 Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, who gave viewers her version of the story about the Iowa volunteer being fired. CNN's Tom Foreman also notably in the same hour ran a report in which he denied that there was evidence Clinton or her campaign had ever promoted birtherism.

Returning to the evening, on Erin Burnett OutFront, CNN political commentator John Avlon -- speaking as an authority who had looked into the issue -- also did not mention the Blumenthal factor as he recalled what he had discovered about Clinton supporters from 2008 not officially working on her campaign who pushed birtherism by filing a lawsuit in Texas. It was not until a bit later when conservative CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany brought up Blumenthal that host Burnett finally addressed the issue, as she noted that CNN was trying to confirm the story.

Substitute host John Berman similarly addressed the issue during Anderson Cooper 360 after conservative CNN political commentator and NewsBusters contributor Jeffrey Lord injected the Blumenthal story into the conversation.

But when Don Lemon came along on CNN Tonight, he actually pronounced the Blumenthal story to be "not true" after conservative CNN political commentator Corey Lewandowski brought it up at 9:22 p.m. ET. After claiming, "Corey, that is not true," he then changed his assessment to "no definitive proof" as he added:

Okay, so CNN reached out to Blumenthal, who told our person who reached out, "This is false. Period. Donald Trump cannot distract from the fact that he is the one who embraced and promoted the birther lie and bears the responsibility for it." There is no -- there is no definitive proof -- hold on, Corey -- there's no definitive proof of what you're saying about Blumenthal.

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of The Lead with Jake Tapper, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, and CNN Tonight, from Friday, September 16:

#The Lead with Jake Tapper:
4:06 p.m. ET
JAKE TAPPER: One new bit of information in this developing story, while there remains no evidence that Clinton or anyone on her campaign pushed the birther lie, this afternoon a former Washington bureau chief of McClatchy, Jim Asher, tweeted that longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal pushed the "Obama was born in Kenya" lie to him. A top 2008 Clinton campaign source tells me that Blumenthal was not officially on the campaign, but Blumenthal is certainly an ally of the Clintons. Neither Blumenthal nor the Clinton campaign responded to a request for comment about Asher's tweets.

(...)

#The Situation Room:

5:10 p.m. ET
REP. SEAN DUFFY (R-WI): It was a Clinton campaign staffer who pushed this story out in the '08 race. I don't know that Hillary Clinton came out and apologized for that staffer to Barack Obama for pushing that story and spreading that mistruth.

WOLF BLITZER: Well, let me just point out what you're referring to because we did speak to Patti Solis Doyle who was the Clinton campaign manager earlier today, and what she told us was there was a presumably an unpaid young staffer in Iowa, It may have been a volunteer or maybe not even a staffer -- a volunteer who was spreading this kind of stuff. Once she found out about it, once Hillary Clinton found out about it, they immediately fired this individual, and Patti Solis Doyle said she called David Plouffe -- the Obama campaign manager -- to officially apologize for that. So there really wasn't an effort to spread this kind of birther smear.

[REP. DUFFY]

BLITZER: There's no evidence at all that Hillary Clinton ever raised the birth place of then-Senator Barack Obama.

REP. DUFFY: No, but her team did. And, frankly, if it's someone who has a position that could actually be fired-

BLITZER: But the team didn't. There was one volunteer in Iowa who was fired for him doing that, but there was never any team effort, if you will, to smear the Democratic presidential candidate.

(...)

BLITZER: But I just want to reiterate, though. Let me just reiterate, there's no evidence that Hillary Clinton herself ever discussed the so-called birther issue, and when her campaign found out a volunteer was doing so in Iowa, they immediately fired that volunteer, got rid of that volunteer, and the campaign manager from the Clinton campaign formally called up the campaign manager from the Obama campaign and apologized.

(...)

#The Situation Room:
6:06 p.m. ET
PHIL MATTINGLY: Another issue that has popped up today. The former McClatchy Washington bureau chief tweeted out, saying that Sidney Blumenthal -- obviously a close associate of the Clintons -- had pitched this theory to him during that campaign. Sidney Blumenthal just responded to my colleague who follows Hillary Clinton, saying that is completely untrue. But it's worth noting Sidney Blumenthal did not have an official role on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. What we know, the reality of this issue is this: Hillary Clinton and her campaign -- at least those paid by her campaign -- never pushed this claim and is certainly not the people that originated this claim.

(...)

#Erin Burnett OutFront:

7:11 p.m. ET
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump has been selling this swill as a conspiracy entrepreneur for five years. It was the foundation of the flirtation with the presidency in 2012. He's continued to sound those notes throughout this campaign. And even in today's statement, he lied while telling the truth, you know, by saying that it was Hillary Clinton who started it personally, trying to deflect, and then he ended it.

ERIN BURNETT: So let me ask you on that and get everyone's reaction You've looked into this.

AVLON: Absolutely.

BURNETT: This claim. And what have you found?

AVLON: So, in my reporting back in Wing Nuts, you know, these conspiracy theories have different tributaries that lead to them. But what I followed was the source of the first lawsuit and the person who took credit for bringing it to the lawyer. It was a Clinton supporter out of Texas named Linda Starr who was sort of an amateur opposition researcher. She was furious about the state of the primary -- like many Hillary Clinton supporters. She brought the suit to a lawyer named Philip Berg, and they launched it right before the Democratic primary. And this percolated among-

BURNETT: So, a Clinton supporter, but you're saying not the Clinton campaign?

AVLON: Not the Clinton campaign. These were hardcore -- the PUMAs, the hardcore, you know, Hillary supporters who were furious that she's lost the primary. It percolated, but then it was picked up by conservatives, and they've been carrying it ever since. First, Lou Dobbs on national television mainstreamed it, then Donald Trump did more than anyone else to keep it alive.

(...)

#CNN Tonight:
9:22 p.m. ET
DON LEMON: Today, Donald Trump admitted that the President was born in the United States, but in the same breath, he blames the entire birther issue on Hillary Clinton. How does that help him?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, what he said was, he put this issue to rest, and it was an issue that the Clinton campaign and specifically Sidney Blumenthal raised with a McClatchy news editor in 2008. And specifically Sidney Blumenthal of the Clinton campaign at the time asked the editor to look into where Barack Obama was born. And McClatchy at the time sent a reporter to Kenya to find out if it was-

LEMON: Corey, that is not true.

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, this is what McClatchy is reporting.

LEMON: Okay, so CNN reached out to Blumenthal, who told our person who reached out, "This is false. Period. Donald Trump cannot distract from the fact that he is the one who embraced and promoted the birther lie and bears the responsibility for it." There is no -- there is no definitive proof -- hold on, Corey -- there's no definitive proof of what you're saying about Blumenthal. Okay, go on.

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm reading to you from McClatchy news services, from 7:29 tonight, that Sidney Blumenthal is on the record asking this, and a Clinton staffer in Iowa is on the record as asking for this to be sent forward in an email. And, moreover, it is unequivocal that Penn, who was her lead strategist, wrote about the fact that there was a potential of exploiting Barack Obama's potential of where he was born. Now, Penn was never fired.

LEMON: Okay, we're re-litigating this. We've talked about it a million times. Every single fact check, every single (inaudible) says it is false.

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