The White House acknowledged Thursday that President Barack Obama lived with his uncle for a brief period in the 1980s while he was a student at Harvard Law School, despite a previous assertion from administration officials that there was no record of the two having met.
“The president did stay with him for a brief period of time until his apartment was ready,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “After that, they saw each other once every few months, but after law school they fell out of touch. The president has not seen him in 20 years, has not spoken with him in 10.”
Onyango “Omar” Obama faced a deportation hearing this week after a drunk-driving arrest. During the hearing, he said that the president had lived with him while he was a student at Harvard.
The Boston Globe reported in 2011, after Omar Obama's arrest, that the White House said he had “never met his famous nephew.” The White House now says it told the Globe only that there was no record of the two having met, as opposed to a definitive statement.
In its report Thursday, the Globe confirmed that the White House initially said there was no record that the two had met. It said the White House never asked for a correction.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at Thursday's White House briefing that, “back when this arose, folks looked at the record, including the president's book, and there was no evidence that they had met and that was what was conveyed. Nobody spoke to the president.”
When the issue of their relationship arose again this week during the Boston trial, Carney said, “I thought it was the right thing to do to go ask him.”
Carney said the two men have no relationship now.
The shifting account comes at a bad time for the White House, which is dealing with an embattled health-care law, Obama's declining popularity and press corps complaints about access to presidential events.
Omar Obama, a 69-year-old Kenyan national, is the brother of President Obama's late father, who was not close to his son and left the family when the future president was very young.
Obama's relationship with his uncle is also news to scholars of the president, who had not previously found evidence that the two had met, according to a 2011 Washington Post report.
Omar Obama was allowed to stay in the United States after his hearing. The White House emphasized that it did nothing to assist him in his deportation case. He had said after his arrest that the president would help him.
“Omar Obama's case was handled routinely, in regular order — without any interference from the president or the White House,” Schultz said.
Obama's uncle is the second of his relatives to face deportation. The president's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, also avoided deportation in 2010.