Trump Says 'Don't Tell Me What I Know,' Refuses to Say Kamala Harris Is Eligible After False Birther Claims

President Donald Trump refused on Saturday to shut down false claims that California Sen. Kamala Harris, the presumptive Democratic vice-presidential nominee, is ineligible to run in the 2020 election.

While the president said he did not plan on "pursuing" the false claims, which were prompted by an op-ed published by Newsweek questioning Harris' eligibility, he fell short of rejecting them outright, despite being pressed to do so by a reporter.

"I have nothing to do with that. I read something about it." Tump said after he was asked to state that Harris is eligible to run in the 2020 election during a press briefing at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. "I know nothing about it, but it's not something that bothers me."

Pressed further, Trump said: "I just don't know about it, but it's not something that we will be pursuing."

Cutting off the reporter, Trump said: "Let me put it differently, let me put it differently, don't tell me what I know. Let me put it differently."

"To me, it doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I don't know about it. I read one quick article. The lawyer happens to be a brilliant lawyer, as you probably know. He wrote an article saying it could be a problem. It's not something that I'm going to be pursuing."

Asked again to comment directly on whether or not Harris is eligible to run, Trump said: "I just told you. I have not gone into it in great detail."

"If she's got a problem," he said, "you would have thought that she would have been vetted by Sleepy Joe," using one of his favorite nicknames for his presumptive Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Questions around Harris' eligibility were prompted by an opinion piece published by Newsweek and written by Chapman University law professor Dr. John C. Eastman.

In his opinion article, Eastman questioned Harris' eligibility to run in the upcoming election by suggesting that Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, may not qualify as a "natural-born citizen" because of her parents' immigration statuses.

The argument that Harris may not be a "natural-born citizen," due to her parents' immigration statuses, is inaccurate. As an individual born in the U.S. and having been a resident for at least 14 years and being aged 35 or older, Harris is eligible to run for the country's highest office, according to the Constitution.

Newsweek faced swift backlash after Eastman's article appeared, with critics condemning the claims made in the column for spreading a racist "birther" theory, not unlike the one Trump waged for years against former President Barack Obama.

A day after the piece was published, Newsweek apologized for its publication, with an editor's note acknowledging that the op-ed was "being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia."

"We apologize. The essay, by John Eastman, was intended to explore a minority legal argument about the definition of who is a 'natural-born citizen' in the United States," the apology said. "But to many readers, the essay inevitably conveyed the ugly message that Senator Kamala Harris, a woman of color and the child of immigrants, was somehow not truly American."

"The op-ed was never intended to spark or to take part in the racist lie of Birtherism, the conspiracy theory aimed at delegitimizing Barack Obama, but we should have recognized the potential, even probability, that that could happen," the editor's note said. "Readers hold us accountable for all that we publish, as they should; we hold ourselves accountable, too. We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized."

Noting that "many readers have demanded that we retract the essay," the editor's note said: "We believe in being transparent and are therefore allowing it to remain online, with this note attached."

In addition to the apology, Newsweek later published two separate opinion pieces stating that Harris is eligible to run.

On Friday, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, defended Trump for commenting on the false claims and accused the media of creating a false narrative.

"Right now, you're the one spreading that disinformation," he said on CNN. "The president was at a coronavirus briefing, he was asked by a reporter about a report in Newsweek, and his words were, 'I don't know anything about that,'" he said.

"And since then, the media has been going wild, basically saying he was pushing a theory," Kushner said. "I'll take him at his word that he said he doesn't know anything about that, and that's what he said."

In a statement on Sunday, Newsweek spokesperson Ken Frydman said ""Newsweek has apologized for failing to anticipate the ways in which the OpEd would be distorted to advance a racist conspiracy against Senator Harris."

"The apology is appended to the OpEd," Frydman noted.

Updated: 08/16/2020 at 7:58 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with a statement from Newsweek. It has also been updated with more of Trump's comments.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on August 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Trump would not state clearly that California Sen. Kamala Harris is eligible to run in the 2020 election during a press conference on Saturday. Alex Wong/Getty