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Elizabeth Warren defends decision to release DNA test

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke to the Globe's editorial board Tuesday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Senator Elizabeth Warren defended the timing of her decision to release the results of a DNA test just ahead of the midterm elections, telling the Globe Tuesday that she went public as soon as possible to begin deflecting the constant taunting from the president and her Senate challengers.

“I have an election,” Warren said during an hourlong interview with the editorial board. “Donald Trump goes in front of crowds multiple times a week to attack me. Both of my opponents have made the same attack. I got this analysis back, and I made it public.”

The six-page genetic data report, which was released on Sunday, is dated Oct. 10. The analysis showed “strong evidence” Warren had a Native American ancestor dating back six to 10 generations. That generational range suggests Warren is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. Those results fit with an 1894 document uncovered by the New England Genealogical Society that suggested her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was at least partially Native American.

The results, perhaps predictably, only triggered further attacks from Trump and other Republican critics, who quickly seized on the low end of the results as ammunition for further mockery.


“Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning as part of a Twitter tirade against the Cambridge Democrat.

Some Democrats have also criticized Warren’s timing on releasing the report — just weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when the party hopes to capitalize on a backlash against Trump to make inroads into the GOP’s majorities in Congress.

When asked whether, based on the results, she made a mistake identifying herself as Native American as a law professor, Warren expressed regret but stopped short of admitting error.


“There’s a distinction between citizenship and ancestry. I wish I had been more mindful of that distinction. The tribes and only the tribes determine citizenship,” said Warren in the Globe interview. “It’s their right as a matter of sovereignty, and they exercise that in the ways they choose to exercise it. I respect that distinction.”

Pressed again on whether she made a mistake decades ago in listing herself in directories of minorities in academia, Warren emphasized she was thinking about her Native American ancestry, not any sort of claims to tribal citizenship, when she made those decisions.

“The distinction is: I’m not a citizen, never have claimed to be, and I wish I had been more mindful of that 30 years ago,” Warren said, noting that she has cousins who are tribal citizens. “I wish I had been clearer about that — been more mindful, is the word.”

Leadership of the Cherokee Nation have nonetheless criticized Warren for her move.

“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., the secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation, said in a statement after Warren’s results went public.

Another of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes offered more support for Warren, telling Business Insider they did not take issue with her decision. “Senator Elizabeth Warren does not claim to be a citizen of any tribal nation, and she is not a citizen of the Eastern Band,” Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the outlet. “Like many other Americans, she has a family story of Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and evidence of Native ancestry.”


Warren’s Republican challenger on Nov. 6, Geoff Diehl, has largely avoided mentioning the controversy surrounding Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry, though he has referenced it in some recent TV interviews, including during a Tuesday appearance on Fox News.

“She’s been consistently misleading the people of Massachusetts and the American people in saying that she had this claim. Now we know there’s no real conclusive proof that she has Native American identity,” Diehl said.

He also attacked Warren by saying she benefited professionally from identifying as Native American. An extensive Globe investigation found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ancestry did not help her remarkable rise through the legal teaching ranks.

“Honesty with Elizabeth Warren seems to be a foreign word,” Diehl said.

Warren has been attacked on the issue much more aggressively by the third candidate on the ballot, independent Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont, whose main campaign slogan is “Only a real Indian can defeat a fake Indian.”

Warren’s decision to share the DNA results is an unprecedented move by an American politician, and sets her apart from both Hillary Clinton — who resisted releasing personal information — and Trump, who continues to refuse to release his tax returns.


In the interview, the Cambridge Democrat, who has said she will “take a hard look” at running for president after Nov. 6, placed the DNA results within the context of other recent moves she’s made to open her background to outside scrutiny.

“I believe in transparency,” she said, pointing to her decision to release her tax returns back to 2008, and every employment document “that we could lay our hands on” to show that her claims to Native American blood did not help her professionally. “This was just another part of it.”

An in-depth Globe review of Warren’s professional history, including interviews with 31 professors on the Harvard Law hiring committee who offered her a job in 1993, found that Warren was viewed as a white woman by the hiring committees at every institution that employed her.

Warren said that any backlash or criticism that greeted her decision did not change her mind because it was the right thing to do.

“I know what it is, and I’m not going to hide it,” said Warren. “How do you sit here if you know what it is, and people ask, and you don’t give an answer? I don’t know how to do that and I don’t want to do that.”

Victoria McGrane can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.