Donald Trump sought Friday to put the “birther” issue behind him, saying for the first time that he believes President Obama was born in the United States — officially ending a five-year crusade that helped pave the way for the billionaire businessman’s presidential run, but also has tarnished his image among voters he might need in his corner to win the White House.
“President Barack Obama was born in the Untied States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again,” Mr. Trump told a crowd gathered in ballroom at the Trump International Hotel, a few blocks from The White House.
At the same time, Mr. Trump said it was Hillary Clinton’s supporters from her 2008 primary showdown with Mr. Obama that sparked his interest in the controversial subject and motivated him to invest so much time, money and energy into investigating where Mr. Obama was born.
And he took credit for getting Mr. Obama to release his long-form birth certificate, which showed the president was born at Honolulu’s Kapiolani Hospital on Aug. 4, 1961
“Hillary Clinton, and her campaign of 2008, started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it,” he said.
Until Friday, Mr. Trump had shied away from admitting he was on the wrong side of the debunked birther claim, which insisted the nation’s first African-American president was ineligible to be commander in chief because he was born overseas — possibly in his father’s home country of Kenya.
Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, said Friday that Mr. Trump’s silence up until now on the “outrageous lie” speaks volumes about his candidacy, saying the billionaire businessman’s attempt to “delegitimize our first black president” is “feeding into the worst impulses — the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country.”
“Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology,” she said at an event in Washington, D.C.
Asked to weigh in on the lingering issue, Mr. Obama said he hopes the debate will focus on more important things.
“I was pretty confident about where I was born,” Mr. Obama said. “I think most people were as well. My hope would be the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that.”
Polls show that the presidential race has tightened, with Mr. Trump closing the gap on Mrs. Clinton, who recently labeled half of Mr. Trump’s backers as “deplorables” and was caught on video nearly collapsing in public — an episode her campaign later blamed on a recent pneumonia diagnosis that she had not disclosed to the press.
Mrs. Clinton continues to outperform Mr. Trump among minority voters and women, including those living in the suburbs that could be key voters in battleground states that could decide the Nov. 8 election.
Mr. Trump was introduced Friday by retired Lt. Gen. Michael T.Flynn and used the event to honor decorated military veterans that have endorsed his candidacy and urged the audience to elect him president.
“This is a time that we need our military, perhaps more than ever,” Mr. Trump said.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.