Donald Trump has in the last week attempted to erase his history with birtherism by claiming he put the issue to bed when, by his account, he single-handedly forced President Barack Obama in 2011 to release his long-form birth certificate, and by falsely insisting that the conspiracy theory sprang from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
At least one former Clinton supporter, whose name is synonymous with the birther movement, told TPM in a Wednesday phone interview he doesn’t mind that his promotion of the myth that the country’s first black President wasn’t born on U.S. soil contributed to Trump incorrectly pinning its origins on Clinton’s campaign.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Philip J. Berg, Pennsylvania’s former deputy attorney general, adding that he had “no direct contact with the Hillary campaign.”
Berg captured headlines in 2008 for teaming up with a Texas-based volunteer for Clinton’s presidential campaign, Linda Starr, to file one of the first lawsuits over Obama’s birth certificate. After that case was dismissed by a judge who declared that Berg lacked standing to file the “frivolous” suit, he went on to file two others. Birtherism remained Berg’s pet cause through Obama’s two terms in the White House: he started a website called Obamacrimes.com and published a book titled “Obama Scare” to promote his conspiracies about the President’s birthplace.
“As I said back in 2008, Obama is a total fraud, and it’s really disrespectful for all the citizens of this country,” an unrepentant Berg told TPM. “We’re really a laughingstock of the whole world because the world knows he’s a phony.”
After Berg’s law license was suspended for misconduct in 2013 and he lost his right to practice before the Supreme Court the following year, he began working for ride-sharing services in the greater Philadelphia area. He currently works as a driver for Lyft, which he told TPM provides him an opportunity to share his thoughts with riders about Obama’s Kenyan roots and schooling in Indonesia.
Clinton has flatly rejected conspiracies about Obama’s birthplace, and did not accept the advice of then-campaign strategist Mark Penn to highlight her opponent’s upbringing abroad and “limited” relationship with American values. Penn was fired in 2008, and the Clinton campaign also dismissed two 2008 Iowa volunteers, Judy Rose and Linda Olson, who shared emails claiming that Obama was secretly a Muslim.
Berg’s feelings towards Clinton have cooled considerably in the past eight years, and he now makes political observations that would not be out of place at a Trump rally. Indeed, Berg said he briefly changed his registration to the Republican Party this spring so that he could vote for the real estate mogul in the Pennsylvania primary.
He said this had more to do with his disapproval for Clinton’s record as secretary of state (Benghazi! Emails!) than his affinity for Trump. But Berg defended the real estate mogul against accusations that birtherism was a racist effort to delegitimize the nation’s first black President.
“That is such nonsense,” he insisted. “There’s no racial undertone. There was never one from my part. Aside from being a Democrat, I’m also a paid member of the NAACP and I have been for years. There was never racism from my part or any of my people. I sued three different times and with all the people that I worked with and people that gave me input on the lawsuits, racism has never, never come up. That’s why I think Trump did what he did the other day.”
After questioning Obama’s birthplace for five years, Trump last week said in a grudging 30-second comment, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” Suspicions that this wasn’t a sincere reversal were given extra fuel on Wednesday, when Trump said he announced the apparent change of heart so that he could “get on with the campaign.”
Berg, who said he switched his registration back to the Democratic Party after the primaries but still plans to vote for Trump in the general election, suggested he doesn’t entirely buy Trump’s birtherism announcement either.
“I was surprised by it because of his efforts to produce a birth certificate,” he said.
“It’s going to be a topic in the debate,” Berg predicted. “I’m sure it’s going to be a question on Monday.”