This would be the same Sid Blumenthal whose reputation for cutthroat political nastiness is so infamous that he earned the nickname “Sid Vicious” while working in Bill Clinton’s White House. (He was in the news most recently for turning up in Hillary Clinton’s emails with advice for her on U.S. intervention in Libya, where, coincidentally, he had some financial interests.) Might a guy like that find himself casually whispering to reporters during the 2008 primary that the would-be first black president is actually a native Kenyan who’s constitutionally barred from holding the office?
Meanwhile, former McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher tweeted Friday that Blumenthal had “told me in person” that Obama was born in Kenya.
“During the 2008 Democratic primary, Sid Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Co.,” Asher said in an email Friday to McClatchy, noting that he was at the time the investigative editor and in charge of Africa coverage.
“During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya. We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false.
“At the time of Mr. Blumenthal’s conversation with me, there had been a few news articles published in various outlets reporting on rumors about Obama’s birthplace. While Mr. Blumenthal offered no concrete proof of Obama’s Kenyan birth, I felt that, as journalists, we had a responsibility to determine whether or not those rumors were true. They were not.”
That’s a big deal if true. It wouldn’t change the fact that Trump did more to promote Birtherism than anyone else but it would place interest in the story during the 2008 campaign squarely within the Clintons’ inner circle, as Blumenthal has been one of their most loyal cronies for decades. There’s no reason, given his history, to believe he was above pushing Birtherism as an ethical matter, even if he thought it was a groundless smear. In fact, according to the book “Game Change,” Blumenthal was “obsessed” with the rumors that year that Michelle Obama had been caught on tape referring to white people as “whitey.” An interest in Birtherism would fit hand in glove with that, as both attacks involve a racial angle on why the Obamas were unfit to govern, him because he’s a literal foreigner from Africa and her because she has a grudge against whites. And there’s more circumstantial evidence: In 2009, after Hillary was named Secretary of State, the Obama White House told her they had no problem with her bringing along trusted cronies like Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills — but they drew the line at Sid Vicious, whom they blamed for spreading certain unnamed “harsh attacks” against their candidate during the primaries. What mysterious line had Blumenthal crossed that other Hillary allies hadn’t? Hmmm!
On the other hand, saying that he’s capable of pushing Birtherism and that he actually did it are two different things. Did Blumenthal actually nudge Asher to investigate Obama’s origins? No way, he insists:
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 17, 2016
Eh, just a pro forma denial, right? Why believe Blumenthal, who has a motive to lie in order to protect Hillary, rather than an award-winning journalist like Asher with no similar incentive? Fair point, but reserve judgment at least long enough to read this devil’s-advocate take from Atticus Goldfinch. For the moment, the only evidence Asher’s offering that this happened is the fact that he has Blumenthal’s business card. If he really did send a reporter to Kenya to investigate, there should be no problem identifying the reporter. The reporter himself might be able to confirm that his assignment originated with a tip from Blumenthal, assuming Asher had told him that at the time. It seems odd, frankly, that McClatchy would absorb the expense of sending a reporter across the ocean to Kenya on a wild goose chase for a birthplace they suspected didn’t exist based on nothing more than a Hillary ally whispering to them to check it out. Why not start in Hawaii and try to corroborate Obama’s birth there?
The other reason to believe Asher over Blumenthal is that the media is in the tank for Clinton, which means Asher’s story is an admission against interest. No Hillary fan would have any reason to damage her by connecting her to Birtherism in 2008 apart from a simple obligation to tell the inconvenient truth. As it turns out, though, Asher isn’t a Hillary fan. You’ll find various tweets by him embedded in Goldfinch’s post illustrating his dim view of Clinton. Here’s one from a few days ago:
— James Asher (@jimasher) September 14, 2016
There are assorted links to Wikileaks on multiple subjects in his Twitter feed, which is interesting if only because Wikileaks is informally allied with Trump, not Clinton, this year in leaking damaging emails about the DNC. There’s nothing wrong with being a Clinton-skeptic, lord knows — I’d call it a basic intellectual duty — but if that’s what Asher is, and he does seem to be that, then his “admission against interest” isn’t actually against interest. He dislikes Hillary and, here he is with a story involving Sid Blumenthal that’s damaging to Hillary.
One other point. As far as I know, Blumenthal had never been tied to Birtherism until Asher himself first made the accusation on Twitter in March (as Goldfinch chronicles). One read on that is “Well, what do you expect? Reporters are covering for Hillary now and don’t want to reveal that Blumenthal told them the same thing in 2008. Only Asher has the guts.” Could be, but “Game Change” accused him of interest in the “whitey tape” and HuffPo accused him in the past of trying to push attacks on Obama involving his friendship with Bill Ayers, which is a staple of righty criticism of O but dismissed as guilt-by-association dirty pool on the left. Point being, Blumenthal’s chatter to reporters does leak sometimes.
And there were plenty of reporters in 2008, I’m sure, who favored Obama over Clinton and would have been happy to reveal during the primaries that her right-hand man Sid Vicious was pushing smears with racial angles against O. It’s all but forgotten now because it’s in Democrats’ political self-interest to forget, but Obama fans were on alert throughout the primaries that year for any rhetoric by Clinton or her surrogates that could conceivably be taken as a racial appeal. Weirdly, Bill “First Black President” Clinton was one of their main targets, ranging from him once calling Obama’s upstart candidacy a “fairy tale” to him comparing Obama’s big win in the South Carolina primary to Jesse Jackson’s win there in 1988. If Blumenthal had slipped up at the time and mentioned the Birther accusation to a reporter sympathetic to Obama, that reporter would have been sitting on a big, possibly gamechanging story in the primaries about Hillary Clinton quietly questioning Barack Obama’s American bona fides. And he/she would have been embraced by other pro-Obama reporters in their industry for breaking it and ensuring the savior Barack’s ultimate triumph over the Clinton machine. But no one ever broke that story. Hmmm.
If forced to choose whom to believe, knowing what Blumenthal is capable of, I’d choose Asher. But like I say, and like Goldfinch says, it should be easy for him to corroborate that McClatchy investigated Obama’s origins. Name the reporter who went to Kenya and let’s see if that reporter remembers anything about the story coming from Blumenthal. That would be strong evidence.
Update: Ah, here’s some corroboration for Asher via Johnny Dollar. Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst who strongly supported Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primaries and aggressively pushed the rumors of the “whitey tape,” claims that Blumenthal fed him all sorts of bareknuckle attack lines that year — the tape rumors, Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, and “Information concerning allegations that Barack Obama was not a natural born citizen.” That’s two people now who say Blumenthal was interested in Birtherism.