Sidney Blumenthal is a former advisor to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. He has been a close confidant of the Clintons for decades and also works as a journalist. During the Bill Clinton administration, he was credited with creating the “vast right wing conspiracy” phrase Clinton used during a 1998 appearance on The Today Show.
Blumenthal has denied pushing the birther theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., but in Kenya. However, Trump has insisted that the birther movement began inside the 2008 Clinton campaign.
Here’s a look at who Blumenthal is and his supposed role in the birther movement.
1. Blumenthal Says He Didn’t Speak to McClatchy Bureau Chief James Asher About Writing Birther Stories, but Asher Disputes This
Blumenthal is currently in a he-said-he-said dispute with James Asher, the former D.C. Bureau Chief for McClatchy. This started on September 15, when Asher tweeted that Blumenthal “told me in person Obama was born in Kenya.”
Asher also tweeted directly to Clinton:
“During the 2008 Democratic primary, Sid Blumenthal visited the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Co.,” Asher wrote in an email to McClatchy. “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.”
Blumenthal later sent a statement to Politico, calling Asher’s claims “false.”
“I never spoke to Mr. Asher about this. Period. Donald Trump cannot distract from the inescapable fact that he is the one who embraced and promoted the birther lie and is responsible for it,” Blumenthal explained.
In response, Asher said it was “his word against mine.”
Blumenthal did admit to Politico that he sent an email to Asher to have then-McClatchy correspondent Shashank Bengali report on Obama possibly offending Kenyans over comments about his late father. Politico showed Blumenthal these emails.
“What you sent has nothing to do with birtherism at all. It is untrue I had anything to do with birtherism,” Blumenthal told Politico. “Obama’s relationship with his father is at the heart of his memoir, Dreams of My Father, and has been a commonplace subject of interest for everyone.”
Trump brought up Asher’s story during the debate, adding that the Clinton campaign was “pressing it very hard.” However, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, also told CNN that the claim wasn’t true. However, she admitted that there was a volunteer coordinator in Iowa who sent an email that claimed Obama was a Muslim.
“There was a volunteer coordinator, I believe in late 2007, I think in December, one of our volunteer coordinators in one of the counties in Iowa (who sent the email),” Solis Dyole told CNN in another interview. “Hillary made the decision immediately to let that person go. We let that person go.”
The Clinton campaign did make a public statement in 2007, saying that the campaign “does not tolerate this kind of activity or campaigning.”
2. President Obama & Rahm Emanuel Refused to Allow Clinton to Hire Blumenthal
After Obama picked Clinton to be his Secretary of State for his first time, she wanted to hire Blumenthal. However, in August 2009, sources told The New York Times that then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel refused to let her hire him. Veterans of the 2008 campaign blamed him for spreading negative stories about Obama.
During the 2008 campaign, Blumenthal was a “senior campaign advisor” for Clinton. In May 2008, Occidental College professor Peter Dreier wrote in The Huffington Post that he had been receiving emails with links to right-wing blogs and publications, all with Blumenthal’s name attached.
Also during the campaign, Blumenthal was arrested for driving while drunk in New Hampshire and pleaded guilty to charges. His license was suspended for 16 months and he had to pay a $750 fine. The arrest happened the day before the New Hampshire primary in January 2008.
3. Even Though He Didn’t Work in the State Department, Clinton Still Took His Advice Seriously, Even on Benghazi
As violence unfolded in Libya, Clinton took advice from Blumenthal. Emails that surfaced in May 2015 showed that he would often forward questionable intelligence to Clinton that came from his business associates who wanted contracts with the Libyan transitional government, the New York Times reported. At the time, a State Department spokesman declined to tell the Times if Clinton or anyone in the Department knew that Blumenthal had business interests in Libya.
He would also send Clinton emails on matters unrelated to foreign policy. In one, he called John Boeehner “louche, alcoholic, lazy, and without any commitment to any principle” and Obama advisor David Axelrod someone who “should not be a foreign policy spokesman on any issue or area.”
Blumenthal was called to to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghzi by Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican. In their their report on the Congressional investigation, the Democratic members of the committee suggested that Blumenthal was only called to testify for “political opposition research.”
“During Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition on June 16, 2015, Republicans spent nearly nine hours asking hundreds of questions completely unrelated to the attacks in Benghazi,” the Democrats’ report reads. “These included more than 270 questions about Mr. Blumenthal’s alleged business activities in Libya, 160 questions about Mr. Blumenthal’s relationship and communications with Secretary Clinton, more than 50 questions about the Clinton Foundation, and 45 questions on Media Matters, its founder David Brock, and affiliated entities.”
In March 2016, WikiLeaks posted over 30,000 emails sent by Hillary Clinton from her private email server. A search for Blumenthal reveal over 800 messages from him.
4. Blumenthal Was Reportedly Paid $10,000 a Month by the Clinton Foundation While Clinton Was Secretary of State
In 2009, the same year Clinton became Secretary of State, Blumenthal was hired by the Clinton Foundation at Bill Clinton’s request, according to Politico sources. In 2013, Blumenthal was moved to a contract job that paid the same, but without benefits. He held that position until March 2016.
During his testimony before the Benghazi committee, Blumenthal also confirmed that he was earning $200,000 a year through a contract with David Brock, a Clinton loyalist who runs Media Matters and Correct The Record. The Los Angeles Times noted that Blumenthal’s testimony was originally redacted from the Democrats’ Benghazi report, but the black-bars could be removed from an original version of the report using copy-and-paste on any computer. The revelation was also leaked to Fox News.
The Democrats included the testimony to make the point that the Republicans weren’t asking him questions directly related to Benghazi. The testimony shows that they asked questions specifically about Blumenthal’s relationship with Brock.
Politico reported in May 2015 that while Blumenthal is not as directly involved in Clinton’s 2016 campaign as he has been in past Clinton endeavors, he is working as a paid consultant for Brock’s Media Matters and American Bridge PAC.
In May 2016, Blumenthal was on CNBC and denied that he had contracts with anyone in Libya. “I had a real job at the Clinton Foundation working on educational projects, that was a separate matter,” he said in the interview, seen above. He also said that he has “always urged” for the release of his testimony transcripts.
5. Blumenthal Is Writing a Four-Volume Political Biography on Abraham Lincoln
Blumenthal is now spending most of his time writing a four-volume biography on Abraham Lincoln, focusing on his political life. The first volume, A Self Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809-1849, was released in May to critical acclaim. According to Politico, Blumenthal refused to talk about anyone other than Lincoln at a pre-White House Correspondents’ Dinner event last year.
Blumenthal has written several other books, including 2003’s The Clinton Wars, 1980’s The Permanent Campaign: Inside the World of Elite Political Operatives and 2006’s How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime. The second volume of his Lincoln biography, The Wrestling With His Angels, is due out in May 2017.
“There are many Lincolns,” Blumenthal told the Guardian in May, when asked why he decided to write about Lincoln. “The most commonly held is seen as sitting above us, in his enormous chair in his memorial of white alabaster: pure, immoveable, transcendent. And none of that was possible without him being the opposite of that, a real live politician who developed in ways that I wanted to look at.”