CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A staff writer for the Trump Organization took responsibility on Wednesday for the “chaos” caused by a speech given by the wife of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that drew accusations of plagiarism and cast a shadow over the party’s convention this week.
The writer, Meredith McIver, apologized and offered an explanation that threw into sharp relief two days of efforts by the Trump campaign to deny there had been a problem with Melania Trump’s speech on Monday night.
The Republican convention in Cleveland, which formally anointed Trump on Tuesday as the party nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election, was meant to be an occasion for the party to rally around its unorthodox White House candidate after a bitterly divisive primary campaign.
But the accusations of plagiarism, and the Trump campaign’s responses to them, have been a major talking point just as the party tries to showcase a candidate who it believes can appeal to voters and a campaign operation capable of beating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.
In a statement, McIver said she had inserted passages into the Melania Trump speech that resembled parts of a 2008 speech by first lady Michelle Obama to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, when Barack Obama was in his first campaign for the presidency.
McIver said she had offered to resign over the speech controversy, but Trump and his family had rejected the offer. The Trump Organization is owned by Donald Trump.
Trump defended McIver in an ABC News interview on Wednesday, saying: “She made a mistake. People make mistakes. You’ve made mistakes. We all make mistakes.”
He said McIver had been with him for a long time and was a “good person.” Trump added: “I thought it was terrific the way she came forward and just said, ‘Look, it was a mistake that I made.’ She thought it was very unfair to Melania.”
In her speech on Monday, Melania Trump spoke of passing on to the next generation the value of hard work that she inherited from her parents and said that “the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
“My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect,” Melania Trump told the Cleveland convention.
In Denver eight years ago, Michelle Obama said she and her husband, Barack, “were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect.”
McIver said Melania Trump had read passages from Michelle Obama’s speech over the phone to her as examples. McIver then wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in a draft that became Melania Trump’s speech.
McIver said in her statement that Michelle Obama is a person Melania Trump “has always liked.”
“I did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant,” McIver said.
Nowhere in the statement by McIver and comments by Trump campaign officials on the speech has there been any sense of irony that the wife of the Republican nominee was inspired by the words of Michelle Obama at the same time that speaker after speaker at the Republican convention, echoing Trump, assailed her husband’s policies.
Democrats have seized on the similarities in the speech and the Trump campaign’s various explanations over the ensuing 48 hours as showing that his team is not ready for prime time. The charge was all the more embarrassing because Trump has repeatedly slammed Clinton as untrustworthy.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday the similarities showed the country’s values were largely shared, even if political leaders had differences.
“That certainly buttresses an argument that the president has been making quite frequently of late, about the country not being as divided as it might seem,” Earnest told reporters.
Questions have lingered over why the Trump campaign had not run simple plagiarism software that is commonly used to ensure that speakers do not inadvertently lift other people’s words, and why the campaign sought to deny and brush away the problem.
Republican strategist Ted Newton, president of Gravity Strategic Communications and a staffer in Republican Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential campaign, said the Trump campaign should have come clean much sooner.
“It sort of reflects the old adage: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up,” Newton said. “To have it bungled so badly is really a shame and sad for her.”
If the campaign had admitted what happened sooner, Newton said, “It would have been a bump in the road.”
Hours before giving the speech, Melania Trump, a Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model, told NBC’s “Today” that she had written it with as little help as possible. But her husband’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told CBS’ “This Morning” on Tuesday that it was a collaboration with speech writers.
As late as Wednesday, just hours before McIver’s statement, Manafort was pressed again on the issue on CNN. He did not say words had been lifted from the Michelle Obama speech and sought to stress the overall effectiveness of the speech. “The controversy that you’re talking about is not meaningful at all,” he said.
McIver is listed as a writer on some of Trump’s most popular books, including “Trump: How to Get Rich” and “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire.” Her author’s biography in “How to Get Rich” says she was a Ford Foundation scholar who graduated from the University of Utah, as well as a member of the Trump Organization.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Amy Tennery and Emily Stevenson in Cleveland and Ayesha Rascoe and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney