LAS VEGAS — And you thought the “birther” movement was dead.
Not in Arizona, where Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a news conference Thursday to reveal the preliminary results of an investigation into the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Obama released the long-form certificate last year in an attempt to quiet critics — including Donald Trump — who claimed he was born outside the United States and was therefore ine ligible to become president.
The White House considers the matter settled. For some Arizona residents, that’s apparently not enough. Arpaio said that, at the request of local tea party members, he dispatched a volunteer squad of attorneys and retired police to investigate.
After six months of digging, Arpaio’s team concluded there was “probable cause to believe forgery and fraud occurred” regarding Obama’s birth certificate and his Selective Service card; the team recommended a criminal investigation.
Arpaio said he was uncertain what his next step would be, and he suggested that his team’s information merited a congressional inquiry.
“If nothing else comes out of the investigation … what we have learned, we need a better process to vet people running for president of the United States of America,” he said.
The “cold case posse” results were widely mocked on Twitter, and the 90-minute televised announcement of them was perceived by some as pure political theater. There was a lot of tech-speak about the birth certificate’s “layers” and whether the use of various kinds of software explained what the posse called “anomalies” in the document.
Trump was name-dropped. So was Bill Ayers. And Andrew Breitbart, the conservative activist and blogger who died Thursday. At the news conference, it was suggested that Breitbart’s last interview may have been with Arpaio.
The specter of conspiracy was raised repeatedly. The leader of Arpaio’s posse, Mike Zullo, mentioned microfilm that appeared to have vanished and someone who had witnessed something involving Ayers’ mother. (The details were left to viewers’ imaginations.) Zullo also said the team had homed in on a “person of interest” involved in the alleged birth certificate forgery but wouldn’t announce who it was.
Even the videos played at the news conference, intended to explain the team’s methodology, were somewhat charged. One explored how to figure out whether a document could be edited and, as an example, showed the word “constitution” being replaced with the word “suggestions” — which seem to be how some tea party members feel Obama has governed.
But Arpaio, whose department has been in the cross hairs of federal investigators, raised his voice and shook his finger at the implication that his team’s inquiry was political.
He and Zullo repeatedly said they were not accusing the president of impropriety. “Mr. President,” Arpaio said, “please come up with some other information … and then everybody will go away.”