The top election official in Arizona, fresh off his flirtation with birtherism, has moved on to a strange new conspiracy theory involving President Barack Obama.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett says he’s convinced Obama was born in Hawaii, but he now believes the president fraudulently claimed to be born in Kenya so he could get into college. He also believes the president has spent millions of dollars since then to cover it up.
The co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s campaign in Arizona, Bennett made the comments recently at an event where he pleaded for local Republicans to unite behind their party’s presumptive nominee for president. He told them a world under Obama is “just very, very scary.”
“Now, I know there’s a lot of people that are very skeptical as to whether he was born in Hawaii,” Bennett told the crowd. “Personally I believe that he was. I actually believe he was fibbing about being born in Kenya when he was trying to get into college and doing things like writing a book and on and on and on.”
A video of Bennett’s entire speech, including his lengthy take on Obama’s birth certificate, was posted Monday on YouTube by someone who appears to have been at the event. (Watch it below.) The description said it was a meeting of state legislative district 12 Republicans held on Thursday.
Bennett, the No. 2 elected official in Arizona just below Gov. Jan Brewer (R), was forced last month to apologize for embarrassing his home state after enduring nearly a week of nationwide ridicule for threatening to keep Obama off the ballot unless he saw more proof that the president was born in Hawaii.
A copy of the president’s birth certificate had already been posted on the White House website for more than a year, but Bennett was buckling to a vocal but fringe group of activists and conspiracy theorists who believe that Obama somehow is not a natural born citizen and therefore is ineligible to be president.
Currently exploring a possible run for governor in 2014 when Brewer’s term ends, Bennett tried to keep his investigation quiet but it eventually got out through emails he sent to birthers. He later confirmed his investigation on a conservative radio talk show in Phoenix.
At the Republican meeting last week, the video shows Bennett continuing to joke about the president’s birth, saying voters need to “send him back home…wherever home is.”
But he quickly flipped and said he was convinced of the president’s eligibility after Hawaii officials sent him verification the birth certificate was authentic. Later in the meeting, Bennett went on to describe his latest theory about the president’s past.
“So if there was weird stuff going on,” he said, “I actually think it was happening back in his college days because I think he has spent $1.5 or $2 million through attorneys to have all of the college records and all of that stuff sealed. So if you’re spending money to seal something, that’s probably where the hanky panky was going on.”
It’s not exactly clear what Bennett is basing his new theory on, but the statements sound similar to branches of the birther theory that involve the president’s college transcripts and his terms at Occidental College and Harvard University. The theory, essentially, is that Obama’s entire life has been engineered as part of some grand conspiracy to put a foreigner in the White House.
Bennett went on to say, however, that he’s not interested in defeating the president on a technicality.
“We’re not going to win this election based on whether he was born in Hawaii or not,” he told the crowd. “We are going to win this election because our country has to change directions or we are quickly headed to a point where we are not going to be able to recover.”
That change, he said, is going to come from Mitt Romney, who has disavowed birtherism but has nonetheless placed himself aside some of the nation’s best known proponents of the theory. Last month, Romney attended a fundraiser in Las Vegas put on by millionaire Donald Trump, who hours earlier went on national television to claim that Obama was born in Kenya.
“Our challenge and my request to you today,” Bennett said, “is let’s make sure that Arizona goes for Gov. Romney and that Mitt Romney is the next president of the United States.”
Watch Bennett’s telling of his new conspiracy theory. It begins at about 6:24 of the video:
(Hat tip: Brahm Resnik)
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com