Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
POSTED: 1:12 p.m. HST, May 23, 2012
WASHINGTON >> Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has apologized for any embarrassment he caused his state when he revived a widely discredited conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama’s birthplace by requesting verification that the president was born in Hawaii.
The apology came on the same day that Hawaii officials finally responded to Bennett’s request for “verification in lieu of” the birth certificate, which he said last week could be a precondition for placing Obama’s name on the Arizona ballot.
“If I embarrassed the state, I apologize, but that certainly wasn’t my intent,” Bennett said Tuesday in an interview with a local radio station.
Obama’s name will appear on the ballot “as long as he fills out the same paperwork and does the same things that everybody else has,” Bennett said.
Still, Bennett — who insists he is not a member of the “birther” movement that continues to promote the unsubstantiated claim that Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to be president — defended himself for making the request.
“What is so sacred or untouchable about this question that you can’t even ask the question?” he said.
Bennett came under fire last week when it was reported that he had asked the state of Hawaii to verify the existence of Obama’s birth certificate, even though a certified copy of the document has been posted to the White House website for more than a year.
Hawaii officials have been inundated with similar requests since Obama first became a presidential candidate, and e-mails obtained by Talking Points Memo suggest the state was less than eager to fulfill the request.
“My apologies for not responding immediately,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Jill T. Nagamine in an e-mail to Bennett earlier this month. “...We need more information to substantiate that you are eligible to receive verification.”
In submitting his request, Bennett cited a Hawaii law that allows officials from other states to request verification of the existence of a birth certificate. But as recently as Saturday, Nagamine was questioning Bennett’s authority to make the request.
“If I have missed something, please let me know,” Nagamine wrote. “My client stands willing to provide you with the verification you seek as soon as you are able to show that you are entitled to it.”
The matter appeared to have been resolved Tuesday night, when Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii Attorney General David Louie, told the Associated Press that Bennett had given the state what it needed to fulfill the request.
Bennett, a Republican who is exploring a run for governor in 2014, is a co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio defended sending one of his deputies to Hawaii to accompany an official in his volunteer posse that is investigating Obama's birth certificate, despite earlier saying no taxpayer money was being spent on the probe.
The sheriff said Tuesday that taxpayers won't ultimately foot the bill because the posse, which so far has used $40,000 in donations to pay for the probe, will reimburse his office for the deputy's trip to Hawaii.
Arpaio said the deputy who was sent to Hawaii was there for security reasons, which the sheriff declined to discuss.
"Even if it was costing the taxpayers money, we are talking about a criminal investigation into possible fraud and forgery on government documents," the sheriff said.
The sheriff launched the investigation last summer and said in March that there was probable cause to believe Obama's long-form birth certificate, released by the White House more than a year ago, is a computer-generated forgery and that the president's Selective Service card was most likely a forgery.
The Arizona Republic first reported that Arpaio had sent the deputy to Hawaii.
Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo, a critic of the sheriff, said Arpaio has misplaced priorities when he focuses on the president's birth certificate, while his own office had failed to adequately investigate hundreds of sex-crimes cases over a three-year period ending in 2007.
"The cost of this trip to Hawaii ought to come out of this re-election campaign because this is politics," Gallardo said. "It's political grandstanding."
Arpaio said health officials in Hawaii refused to talk to his deputy and posse investigator on Monday, though an assistant attorney general came out to talk to the investigators.
"They won't have anything to do with us," Arpaio said.
Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Department of Health, said two men dressed in business suits from Arpaio's department sat down with deputies from the health department and attorney general's office in a conference room Monday.
The men identified themselves as being from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and provided their badges and business cards when asked, Okubo said.
"They said they were conducting an investigation," Okubo said.
Okubo said the Hawaii officials told the men they had to show why they needed the information as part of ordinary business — a response similar to that given to Bennett last week when he publicly pushed his request.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.