What Donald Trump's Birther Investigators Will Find in Hawaii

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The path to Obama's birth certificate, as told by someone who's looked

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credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters


Donald Trump is making a big show of his sudden, flamboyant conversion to "birtherism"--the absurd belief that President Obama wasn't born in the United States. Trump has dispatched private investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama's origins, and he's getting plenty of mileage from an often-credulous media by insinuating darkly about what they're finding. Republican voters seem to like it.


Lost in this circus is that Trump is hardly the first Obama opponent to harbor these suspicions--or to act on them. The path his investigators are presumably taking is a well-trodden one. Others have already looked. And one of them agreed, on the condition of anonymity, to walk me through exactly what Trump's private eyes will find. Here's what I learned:

When you go to Hawaii to investigate Obama's birth, what you're looking to examine are public records. They're easy to find. Fly into the Honolulu airport, rent a car, and drive downtown to the state library. You can't miss it: it's practically in the shadow of the gold-leaf King Kamehameha statue in front of the Aliiolani Hale, the former palace. Once inside the library, head downstairs where they keep the microfilm. Obama was born (they tell us) on August 4, 1961, but you'll want the August 13, 1961 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, because that's when the birth announcement appeared. When you've loaded up the film, flip to the back pages, to the section of the paper called "Vital Statistic." This is the record of births, marriages, and deaths provided by the Hawaii Department of Health's Bureau of Vital Statistics. When you get to Page B-6, scan down the lefthand column--there it is, toward the bottom:

Congratulations! You've located the birth announcement. Nothing indicates obvious Kenyan-Communist plotting or the nefarious handiwork of Bill Ayers. And the competing paper, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, also published an announcement. But you'll want to be diligent and investigate that address. So you'll head back upstairs and hunt down a copy of the Honolulu City Directory. Actually, because these documents are snapshots in time, you'll want the city directories from 1960 through 1962, to see if you can establish any pattern of movement.

After you've lugged them to a table, you'll find the address: it turns out to belong to the Dunhams, who are the parents of Ann Dunham, Obama's mother. If you keep looking, you'll also discover that Barack Obama Sr. is listed at a separate address, 625 11th Ave. in Kaimuki, close to the University of Hawaii. So you can surmise that Obama's parents may not have lived together. You can also find a newspaper article in which Barack Obama Sr. talks about how he is going to Harvard. A short while later, Obama's mother, Ann, returns to using her maiden name, Dunham, and several years after that, the parents divorce. And that's all you're going to find.

Obama was born at the Kapiolani Medical Center, where he (or more likely his mother) was issued a "certificate of live birth," the cat-nippy phrase that gets the birthers howling at the moon. You can visit the Kapiolani Medical Center. But you can't obtain a copy of Obama's certificate of live birth because the Federal Health Information Privacy Act of 1999, which protects medical records from public scrutiny, forbids it. The Obama campaign probably worsened the situation by releasing this copy of a certificate of live birth--worsened it because this is obviously only a copy (printed from a computer) and not the original. So the effect on the birther rumors was like the effect of steroids on Barry Bonds: it made everything bigger and uglier.

But the point is, that's it. That's the whole paper trail, all there is to find. My friend says you can do the entire investigation in a single day: Leave DC first thing in the morning, obtain the documents, and you'll still have time to sip a mai-tai on the beach before catching your flight home in the evening. He even went on Expedia and made me an itinerary: the whole trip would only cost $1228.40 (mai-tai not included). So, for me, the takeaway here is that Trump is a fool; he's getting robbed by his investigators, who are taking their sweet time in Hawaii; and he's not going to turn up anything. Also, I'm going to bring this surprisingly reasonably priced itinerary to my editor's attention and see if I can't wangle an assignment.
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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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